Where are black fathers in South Africa?

Phumlani M. Majozi writes on the heartbreaking statistics released by Stats SA last week

Over the past few years, I have repeatedly said that there are societal problems that we as South Africans tend to shy away from. We shy away from them because they are controversial and unpopular. Whoever is courageous enough to raise or discuss them in public platforms, is vilified, hounded, and called all sorts of names.

And that name-calling is an utter shame – it is a disgrace. Because what it indicates, is that we are dishonest to ourselves as citizens of South Africa. We only want to hear what sounds good in our ears, and that which does not challenge our beliefs and practices. The issues we avoid talking and doing something about, tend to have a damaging impact on our society, slowing our socioeconomic progress.

One of the ills of South Africa's society that I have been vocal about, and for which I have been attacked for, is the family breakdown – caused by the absence of fathers in homes across the country.

This is an issue at the core of what slows down our socioeconomic progress. Yet, sadly, famed personalities in the media, politics and academia never dare talk much about it.

Very disturbing and heartbreaking statistics were released by Stats SA last week. The statistics show that only 31.7% of black children live with their fathers in South Africa. Compare this to 51.3% for Colored’s, 86.1% for Asian/Indian and 80.2% for Whites.

The numbers on black children should unsettle us all. A great deal of research has been done around the world on the impact of fatherlessness on societies. That research shows that children who grow up without fathers are more likely to go astray in life. Boys are more likely to become criminals and end up in jail, and girls are more likely to fall pregnant in their teens. Both boys and girls are also, more likely to drop out of school.

Now I have heard many explanations or justifications on why black children do not live with fathers in their homes. The most common, is that it is because of the apartheid legacy. And the other, is that fathers are away to work or to look for work. All not convincing.

In 2018, Stats SA published statistics that showed 62% of children born in the country in 2017 had no details of fathers recorded at the time of birth. The majority of these children must be black. Most of the mothers of these babies, 73% of them, were between the ages of 20 and 34. These are young mothers who never lived their adult lives under apartheid. I bet the fathers that were missing were also in the same age range. Now that information alone indicates that blaming apartheid is ludicrous. There is a disturbing trend that we must face up to as citizens.

When will we stop blaming apartheid for everything? I find this very irresponsible from our part.

I do not believe migrant work is really a concerning factor on South Africa's fatherlessness crisis. It is a factor, but a very minor factor. Many, if not most couples live near each other these days – especially in townships that are next to big cities. Gone are the days where women would stay in rural areas and men go to work in Johannesburg or any major city, leaving their wives and children behind. No millennial does that. That practice is no longer widespread. It may still exist with miners - and manufacturing workers. But on net balance such a practice is a minuscule factor on fatherlessness, at least in my observation.

There is a big cultural problem amongst South Africa’s black population that we need to confront. The habit of people making children they cannot afford - on some occasions with multiple women - is widespread. People just make children with no plan and no formal union or marriage with their partners. One lady once told me she had her child at an early age just to test if she is fertile. I was astonished.

There are people who argue that the government’s child support grant induces unemployed people to make babies. I have not seen credible studies that prove this assertion - and Africa Check has dismissed it as a myth. But the thinking behind the assertion makes sense. If you are unemployed and you can make babies to receive income why should you not make them? And there are few people who choose to have babies for the purposes of accessing government's child support grants.

My view has always been that the government’s child support grant is a terrible program that needs to be phased out of our society. There is nothing appealing about it. Whether it induces people to have babies or not does not matter - there is just nothing appealing about it. We should strive for a society where people raise their children with their own money they earn from their economic productivity in the private sector. That should be our major goal.

But in a society where the African National Congress (ANC) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) dominate politics, such a society is unlikely to be a reality in my lifetime.

Now some people ask: what can be done to address this fatherlessness problem? Well from a government policy perspective very little can be done, in my opinion. The government can only go as far as rolling back child support grants - because they do induce pathological behavior. That would need a plan and timeline targets. A drive or campaign, by the government, to reconnect fathers with their children would also help.

But let us be honest, any government intervention will not help if pathological behavior persists, and men cannot zip up their pants or use protection during sexual activities. The greatest responsibility lies with us as individual citizens. The cultural issues can only be effectively resolved by blacks themselves.

Look, no matter what the causes are for the high rates of fatherlessness in South Africa, my concern is that it is an issue that is not receiving much attention from the public. It is disgrace that we keep talking about inequality and poverty, and then ignore the topic of fatherlessness that contributes to our society's dysfunction.

So long as the rates of fatherlessness remain this high amongst blacks, it will be a struggle for them to catch-up to other racial groups on income and prosperity. The inequality that many people complain about, will be with us for a very, very long time.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi