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An explorative study of the construction of fatherhood in South Africa: the case of unmarried black African parents in eThekwini Municipality, KZN.

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South Africa has a high number of absent fathers especially among unmarried black African parents who live apart. A number of factors have been found to have contributed to this phenomenon including apartheid policies such as the migrant labour and pass laws. These policies have without any doubt impacted on family structure as it is known. In addition, legislation which did not give any unmarried fathers automatic responsibilities and rights in respect of their children may have contributed towards the rate of absentee fathers. Although with the introduction of the new Children’s Act which now provides for automatic responsibilities and rights for unmarried fathers who meet certain criteria, the White paper on families which further encourages father involvement into the life of the child, there is still a lot that needs to be done to address the phenomenon of father absence. These policies have the potential to significantly influence father-child relationships. However, it is crucial that further research is devoted to conceptions of fatherhood and causes of father absence, in order to further understand the dynamics of the phenomenon from different contexts. This study focuses on exploring factors contributing to absentee fathers among unmarried black African parents living apart who reside within the Ethekwini Municipality in KwaZulu Natal (South Africa). A qualitative interpretive approach was used. Thirty (30) participants who reside in Ward 1 and Ward 6 under Ethekwini municipality were be selected using purposive sampling technique. In addition, 4 key informants including traditional authorities and elderly were also selected from both wards. Semi-structured interviews and focus group interviews were both used to collect data from the sample and the analysis was done using thematic analysis. Findings indicate that most fathers in the study have interest of being involved in the upbringing of their children, however they are denied that right due to economic factors as the definition of a father is closely associated with financial provision. It became clear that most parents still define or understand the role of a father as that of providing for the child. This is further complicated by the understanding of fatherhood as closely linked to masculinity which is found in the community. For most participants, child rearing is closely associated with femininity and engaging in such activities does not make one a “real men” in the eyes of the community. Amongst other factors that contributes to absent fatherhood, the study found that the payment of intlawulo to the maternal family still also plays a role in how much access the father has to the child. This cultural practice makes the maternal family the primary custodians of the child and gives them the power to make decision about things pertaining to the child without involving the father. The study also found that the construction of fatherhood is also linked to the parent’s experience of fatherhood with his or her own father during childhood. Having a father who was absent while growing up, a father who only played the role of a financial provider or a father who was involved, for most participants, influenced their understanding of fatherhood. Based on the findings, the researcher recommends that more community awareness are to be done in the communities as most fathers are unaware of their rights and the fact that they have the right to access their children. Section 21 of the children’s Act makes such provisions. Secondly, the development of community based programmes that address the issues of masculinity versus femininity as well as fatherhood. Keywords: fatherhood, absentee father, parent, unmarried parent, child, child care, meaningful parenting and masculinity


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.