CityPress - - Voices -

t 26, in the prime of my life, I was shot and paral­ysed by a bul­let fired by the po­lice dur­ing a 1986 march against rent in­creases in Sharpeville. I woke up in the in­ten­sive care unit of the hospi­tal to hear this from a doc­tor: “I am not sure how the bul­let got to the back of your brain, but you are paral­ysed. Re­mov­ing the bul­let is risky and you may die if we try. So we will leave it there. You may have fits in the first 10 years.” That was the most dev­as­tat­ing news I’d ever heard, as one can imag­ine.

It was in that in­stant that I re­alised for the first time in my life that I missed hav­ing a dad in­tensely. The void that had been there all the years I was grow­ing up with­out a fa­ther and not know­ing who he was or where he was grew wider and wider at that very mo­ment and caused me so much an­guish, I even con­tem­plated sui­cide as a way out of my pain.

My poor mum, who had been with me, could do noth­ing but break down in tears in hospi­tal. I joined her and we cried to­gether. There was noth­ing we could do.

My mother could not an­swer all those ques­tions that were go­ing through my mind as a man who had just learnt that he may never be able to walk again and would be bedrid­den be­cause of con­stant fits. I felt that only my fa­ther would be able to un­der­stand how I felt and I needed him to hold my hand and say: “All will be well my son.” But he wasn’t there, just this lin­ger­ing empti­ness and grief.

Ever since that sem­i­nal mo­ment in my life, I have re­alised that grow­ing up with­out a fa­ther is prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult and painful life ex­pe­ri­ence for any young boy or man, es­pe­cially. It is one thing to know that your fa­ther isn’t alive to give you the moral, fi­nan­cial and spir­i­tual sup­port you need as a boy, or even as a girl child. But know­ing that he is alive and kick­ing some­where, and yet is not there with you when you need him so much must be the most dif­fi­cult chal­lenge to over­come for any child.

Yes, moth­ers play a huge role in many of South Africa’s fe­male-headed house­holds. But they too are swim­ming against a strong tide and can’t raise the boy child alone, judg­ing by the in­crease in the num­ber of so­cial ills such as drug and al­co­hol abuse among boys and young men; and the in­crease in the num­ber of teenage preg­nan­cies among chil­dren who come mainly from fam­i­lies where fathers are ab­sent.

Stud­ies have put the num­ber of chil­dren grow­ing up with­out fathers in South Africa at a stag­ger­ing 9 mil­lion (and still count­ing) and this in­cludes an es­ti­mated 3.95 mil­lion or­phans. It is es­ti­mated that 63% of youth sui­cides are from fa­ther­less homes.

Re­search has shown that the ab­sence of fathers has been as­so­ci­ated with poor ed­u­ca­tional out­comes, an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour, lack of con­fi­dence in girls and be­havioural prob­lems in boys.

As much as not all bad be­hav­iour and so­cial prob­lems can be blamed on the ab­sent fa­ther, sta­tis­tics show a re­la­tion­ship be­tween prob­lem chil­dren and miss­ing fathers that we can no longer ig­nore.

As men we can­not live with a clean con­science know­ing that we are con­tribut­ing to the de­struc­tion of our so­ci­ety and the fu­ture of our chil­dren. Time is against us and we need to change our be­hav­iour dras­ti­cally to try to avert a cri­sis. What more must be said and done for men to re­alise that they are part of the so­cial prob­lems faced by this coun­try?

It is no longer ac­cept­able for a man to aban­don a woman with chil­dren only to go and start a new life and raise a new fam­ily else­where, far away from his other chil­dren, as if they never ex­isted. Those ten­den­cies that were fu­elled by the apartheid mi­grant labour sys­tem can­not con­tinue in a democ­racy where peo­ple are able to move freely be­tween cities and prov­inces to find em­ploy­ment. As a man you can choose to have one fam­ily, or if you choose to have more chil­dren, then make it your re­spon­si­bil­ity to fa­ther all of them.

Men must come to the party and nur­ture their chil­dren, es­pe­cially the boy child, if we are to suc­ceed in end­ing this vi­cious cy­cle of fa­ther­less­ness.

I learnt good lessons when I was strug­gling to put my life to­gether again with­out my fa­ther af­ter that fate­ful day in hospi­tal; I also learnt to un­der­stand and em­pathise with young boys who, through strug­gle and pain, have to find their way in the dark with­out a fa­ther.

On this Fa­ther’s Day I wish to ex­tend greet­ings and en­cour­age­ment to all the moth­ers who play a dual role as both mother and fa­ther to their sons and daugh­ters. To them I say a well-de­served happy Fa­ther’s Day.

As for me and my only son Raphak­isa, I have learnt to keep him close and to be the fa­ther I never had. It wasn’t easy for me be­cause I had no point of ref­er­ence.

Raphak­isa is one of the few for­tu­nate young men in this coun­try who have grown up get­ting love and sup­port from their fathers. I can see in the way he re­lates to his sons that we can suc­ceed in break­ing the chain of fa­ther­less­ness in our fam­i­lies, so­ci­eties and in our coun­try. It starts with just one man.

Botha is com­mis­sioner with the Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity

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