While traditional gender roles and stereotypes of the ‘absent black father’ would have most people believing that men are unwilling or even incapable of being the primary, and in some cases, the sole caregiver to their children, more single dads in Alexandra Township are showing up for their kids and breaking these cycles in the process.
Bertha Muchadeyi, family and social services leader at Rays of Hope Alexandra, an Alex-based NPO that has supported the Alex community for over 30 years, says that the organisation has seen a rise in the number of single fathers attending its parent workshops in search of guidance and support.
“When the single dads come to the workshops every week, they have a safe space for them to share and offload. They get to talk about the issues they’re facing, and that, I believe, has made a huge difference in the number of men embracing fatherhood as single, primary caregivers,” says Muchadeyi. “The more they feel empowered as fathers, the more they want to honour their roles as dads and play an active part in raising their children the right way.”
Stanley Nhlapo lives in Alex and is a single father to four children. Following his wife’s passing in 2010, Nhlapo did not have anyone to look after his children as both his wife’s family and his own could not afford the extra mouths to feed. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate in taking on the responsibility of raising his children, adding that what pains him most is having to explain to his kids why they have to do without a new pair of shoes.
“It hurts me as a father to have to tell them they need to wait until we have more money, but I know it’s important to teach them patience and understanding, and for them to realise that we are not as privileged as others. They should know that life isn’t fair, that not everyone can have what they want. I do this to protect them, and I do my best to make sure they don’t fall into bad habits or do the bad things they see other people doing just so they can get things,” says Nhlapo.
Bronkos Khoza, a single father living in Alex, also began looking after his now teenaged son when his wife fell ill and lost her sight shortly after. As she no longer lives in their home, Khoza stepped up to care and provide for his son, which often meant taking on tasks and responsibilities that he had never done before.
“I need to make sure my child eats, so I learned to cook. He needs clean clothes for school, so I learned to wash and iron his clothes, and I make sure he looks presentable for school every day,” says Khoza.
Like any other father, he wants the best for his son. “I do my best and encourage him to work hard and stay in school, and I remind him that this is how he will be successful and have a better life one day,” he says.
Another father doing his best under challenging circumstances is Alfred Chauke. While he is now an elderly single father to two children, he has been solely looking after his children since they were in nappies after their mother left the family without warning one day. To make matters worse, the mother of his children left with their birth certificates, which means Chauke has been unable to place his children in school.
“It’s my biggest wish for my children to be able to attend school and have better futures,” he says. “I don’t want them to live like this. The place we live in isn’t even good enough for an animal. I want better for them, and for them to be able to have what other children have.”
Born in Mozambique, Chauke came to South Africa in 1986 to escape the Mozambican Civil War and find a better life for his family. He settled in Alex and attempted to start a new life, without realising that his journey would eventually take a lonely, unforgiving turn. He currently recycles plastic bottles to make a living or does ‘piece jobs’ where available.
“I couldn’t run to anyone for help. I couldn’t go back to Mozambique, as my parents have passed on and there would have been no one there to help me. I had to face this as a man, on my own,” says an emotional Chauke.
Rays of Hope is currently assisting Chauke with appealing to the Department of Education for help with placing his children in school and has also secured funding for repairs to his home. The organisation also assists both Chauke and Khoza as well as many others with monthly groceries, in addition to providing them with mental and emotional support and guidance at the weekly parenting workshops.
“It’s not easy for these dads, although it’s good to see them taking a more active role in their children’s lives instead of simply walking away when things get tough,” says Muchadeyi. “But with access to the right support and advice, they can be good fathers and raise a generation of well-rounded, successful young men and women.”