BLACK FATHERS ARE NOT ABSENT: STEPPING STONES CHANGES THE ROLES OF BLACK MEN IN THE HOUSEHOLD
Khanyisile Ntsenge (Monitoring, Evaluation and Knowledge Manager
04 July 2017
According to Posel and Devey , South Africa has one of the highest rates of non-resident fathers in Africa, after Namibia. This statement references the two third of preschool children who do not co-reside with their fathers . While the one third of the children might enjoy the “privilege” of having a present father in the household, it is important to take into consideration Morrell’s caution on the position of the father. Morrell argues that the position of the father cannot be determined in terms of his presence or absence, considering that father presence does not mean father involvement.
“You know, before this school I did not know where my child’s crèche is located. I knew it was somewhere in Zone two but I had no clue about the exact location of the school. After coming to the second class of this school, I went home and thought deeply about the things I had learned that day. I then asked the mother of my child to take me along when she takes the child to the crèche the next day. She laughed at me shocked. She did not believe I was serious. The next day, I was the first one awake, ready to take my child to crèche. I am proud to say that this school changed the way I think about my role as a father and a partner (sic)”.
The above is an excerpt from a discussion held during a conversation between a group of men age 25-50 years old. The session was held in an informal settlement in Clare Estate on Palmiet road. The settlement houses some of the 149,634 informal dwellings in the eThekwini district .
The group – facilitated by Buhle, a young man from the settlement in his mid-twenties – had attended nine stepping stones sessions. Session topics encouraged engagement on the following topics:
• Body Language
• Sex and Love
• Conception and contraception
• Safer Sex and caring in a time of AIDS
• Gender Based Violence
• Supporting Oneself
• Asserting Oneself
The final day was set aside for a group therapy session. This session was an opportunity for participants to share their stories of gender based violence whether as perpetrators or as victims of violence.
Participants of the group shared their experiences of being direct and indirect perpetrators of gender based violence. While participants were reluctant to share their own perpetration of gender based violence, all participants agreed that the root cause of violence is the lack of communication and understanding of the lived experience of another.
Participants shared how they have, in the past few days, learned the importance of talking to their partners. One participant shared that he joined the group thinking that it would be a place to discuss “…the same old boring issues about condoms and then get free money. But the kind of skills I have learned in this place have really changed the way I understand my role as a man and father in the home. I really feel like I have begun to be a changed man. I wish the school would carry on for much longer”.
“Black fathers are not absent”, is a statement that would be welcome to the ears of black children, women, families, black communities and society at large. While this statement cannot be justified as truth yet, interventions such as Stepping Stones with black men and boys will certainly shift the lived experiences of black families.
While the members of this group – and the over six thousand others who form Project Empower’s 2017 Stepping Stones cohort – will not be completely changed by the sessions they attended, an initial stone has been placed. A stepping stone on the path across the difficult river of life.