What Fatherhood Looks Like in South Africa

What Fatherhood Looks Like in South Africa

Fatherhood is much more complex than we make it out to be in South Africa. Just as the structure of family differs widely across the country, so does the nature of fatherhood. The State of South Africa’s Fathers’ (SOSAF 2021) Report, the largest survey conducted on fathers and fatherhood in the country, provides valuable insight on what we thought we knew about South African Fathers. 

The survey had 1,003 participants from all the nine provinces of the country and explored themes surrounding class, unemployment, the meaning of fatherhood and sexuality, to name but a few. Here are just a few things the study revealed.

41% of Children live with men who are not their biological fathers. While this may show that biological fathers may be fully or partially absent from their children’s lives, it also indicates that there is a significant amount of men who are willing to take on the roles of fathers even when they are not the biological parent of the child. The report calls these men “social fathers”.

Father-child engagement, which involves engaging activities between father and child (such as reading for the child, playing, dressing, walking to school, talking about topics of interest) was high but was consistently higher among men in the highest socio-economic brackets compared to those in the low-to-middle socio-economic groups. Thus, fathers who were financially poor were less likely to partake in interactive activities because they prioritised their ability to offer financial support over their abilities to be present as others. The report explained how this done was to avoid the shame that comes with not being able to provide as a father in society.

Even so, the survey revealed that the majority of fathers, 55%, believed that caring for a child contributed to a man’s status of being a father compared to the 32% of fathers who believed that the status of father remained regardless of whether or not he cares for the child. Thus, fathers have mixed feelings about who can be deemed a father.

When it comes to the age-old concept of father’s having to be the breadwinners, dads have certainly shifted their views. 17% of men strongly agreed when asked if men needed to be employed to be good fathers. 20% somewhat agreed, 21% were neutral, 14% disagreed somewhat and 28% strongly disagreed. The long-held societal view that men should be the main financial was not a dominant view amongst fathers.

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Some views, however, continue to remain the same. The survey found that only 35% of participating fathers strongly agreed that a gay man can be a good father. Of course, gay fatherhood challenges the idea that women are natural caregivers while also disrupting the notion of the ideal, nuclear family, which consists of a mother and a father. As deviations from heterosexuality, gay fathers face the threat of discrimination and homophobic attacks, as many other members of the LGBTQIA+ community do. However, queer individuals continue to fight for their rights, including their right to raise families.

gay couple with their baby - gay black dads stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Only 47% of fathers strongly agreed that single men can be good fathers, despite the fact that 91% of them strongly agree that men are as good caregivers as women are. This might be indicative of the strong lean that heterosexual men have towards heteronormative ideals that value the presence of a mother and a father while also being pulled in by shifting attitudes on the importance of present fathers who can offer care towards their child.  It’s possible that gay fatherhood, on the other hand seems to challenge too many heteronormative values and notions about masculinity to hold a positive view in this survey.

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