By Gareth Cliff
We talk about 16 Days of Activism somewhere near the end of the year, every year – but nothing ever really happens. Male hetero-patriarchal aggression continues to be the mode of operation for not only politicians at the top (paying lip-service to women in the workplace while displaying the family values of a character from Game of Thrones), but also the ordinary people at the bottom – us.
In South Africa, Father’s Day shuts ‘Black Twitter’ up like a sulky child – the reality for most black children in South Africa is that their fathers are either absent or not particularly good role models. What I’m saying isn’t even controversial – in 2011 the SAIRR found that 9 million children in South Africa don’t have fathers.
The Father of our nation seems unable to curb profligate spending, is himself the maker of between 20-30 children, and seems not to wholly comprehend the sum total of his responsibility to the nation and the rule of law. We really shouldn’t celebrate Father’s Day in South Africa at all. It’s much easier to get angry about statues, homesteads, racism and toilets.
How much of the anger that young people (particularly men) feel comes from the pain and disappointment of not having a male role model in their lives – of seeing their mothers suffer to eke out an existence in order to feed, clothe and educate them and their siblings? Psychologists and social workers would no doubt provide mountains of evidence of what damage this basic breakdown of the family unit can cause.
Of course Apartheid can be blamed for forced relocations, migrant labour and many other factors that must have been at the heart of this collapse in male presence and contribution to the lives of their children, but there is an element of choice and responsibility which should override any decision to have children – especially in 2015. Outdated and supposedly sacred elements of culture (polygamy, power-relations and displays of prosperity) are at least as much to blame as historical and artificial factors. This is perhaps the argument that makes people uncomfortable on Father’s Day – because it’s very hard to argue for cultural practices that cause pain.
A lot of people growing up in South Africa don’t even know who their father is. Knowing where you come from helps you figure out where you’re going to.
Men have to own up to their dereliction of duty and we all have to take on the responsibility others have discarded. “Be a man!”, they used to say.
On Father’s Day – and every other day – try to mentor, guide, heal, encourage and empathise with children who have no idea how it feels to have a dad. If all these angry, unhappy young people in South Africa had just had a hug from their daddy we would have conquered our racial, social, chauvinist problems a long time ago – and women would thank us for it.
This column first appeared on garethcliff.com on 23 June 2015.