July 8th, 2011
06:33 PM GMT
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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) The business of stimulating economies, creating jobs and mentoring young leaders starts in the cradle.

It is no secret that raising children to become working, responsible members of society is all about the quality of early parenting. However, South Africa, according to some of the country’s most powerful women, is failing to nurture the next generation of workers, leaders and innovators.

This crisis of parenting, which has long-term implications for the country, was highlighted recently at a women’s lunch I attended along with Wendy Luhabe, a prominent businesswomen, and Lulu Xingwana, a cabinet minister. These two ladies and others present expressed concern that South Africa’s children need to be better parented for the challenges that lie ahead.

The real worry for many is the huge number of single-parent families and the lack of male role models in children’s lives. Nine million, or nearly half of the country’s children, are growing up with an absent but living father, according to recent statistics.

With millions of children never knowing their father, Minister Xingwana accused South Africa’s men of avoiding the responsibility of parenting and questioned why so many men “don’t support their children.”

Of course, there are many dedicated fathers, but there is agreement between government and business that the state of the South African family is not healthy. One report stated that there was a “crisis of men” as women struggle to provide and parent for their children alone.

Based on the worrying statistics, there is a growing realization that the nuclear family has broken down and that the burden of child rearing lays solely on a mother or a grandmother.

There are many reasons for this – the impact of HIV/AIDS, cultural traditions, migration from the rural to the urban areas, tough economic realities and many other complicated social and financial explanations.

The inference by worried South Africans is that it has become a rarity, and indeed, even, a luxury, for children to be raised, nurtured and supported through to adulthood by two parents.

Too many children in South Africa are just not getting the deep-seated emotional, psychological and educational benefits that come from living with a mom-and-pop family unit. International and local studies all point to the fact that these children are at a real disadvantage when it comes to their future prospects.

This is not just a problem faced by the poor.

Indeed, mothers in South Africa’s ever-growing middle class were also singled out for skipping on their “responsibilities.” According to Luhabe, too many working women were leaving their children to “be raised by nannies and au pairs.”

The solution, says Luhabe, is that more women needed to stay at home to raise their children. In doing so, she said that men needed to pay stay-at-home mums a “salary.” Fair work for fair pay. A mommy “salary” would help to ensure that women are recognized for the roles they play at home. This idea – it was no joke, believe me – would also help to lift the quality of mothering.

From the rural areas in Transkei to the urban areas of the East Rand, from the wealthy homes in Sandton to the shacks in Diepsloot, the challenge it seems is for parents to raise children who can cope with the implications of the 21st century.

The solutions to unemployment, crime and a growing dissatisfaction by the country’s youth lie in the lost chances of early childhood. Well-meaning legislation to stimulate “job creation” all helps but the real foundations to a vibrant economy and a dynamic workforce are all laid by a loving mom and dad.

As a working mother myself, this issue is fraught with judgment and guilt. Every mom wants the best for their kids. No one likes to be questioned about his or her parenting techniques.

No parent – no matter how poor or disadvantaged they are – wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “I really want to raise illiterate, vulnerable and unemployable children today.” That is just plain wrong. Instead, it seems that too many South African women are struggling desperately to be both a mother and father, a homemaker and a breadwinner. They, and their children, are being failed.

Why, then, do South Africa’s fathers not play a more active role in the lives of their children? Do women let them off the hook too much? Many will point to the legacy of apartheid, which systematically broke up families with a heart-breaking set of laws that forced families to live apart. What impact does ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ have in a country that, despite a liberal constitution, is still deeply patriarchal?

Whatever the reasons, South Africa’s children are not ready for the tough, brutal challenges of adulthood. Blaming is not the answer. Instead, the solution lies in a cuddle, a bedtime story and unconditional love for the country’s important natural assets.

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Indigo Tree Publishing

    A father is an essential part of a child's life. All too often, that is missing. BUZZ, a young adult novel available through http://www.indigotreepublishing.com, tells the story of Matt, an at-risk youth in trouble with the law and some drug dealers whose single mother sends him to his aunt's in the country for the summer. Amidst all the tension from the local youths, an old beekeeper befriends Matt and transforms his life over the summer.

    July 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  2. impacted

    A major part of the problem has to do with the fact a lot of the Safrican women/mothers do not have any reasonable idea what a normal faher's roles are in the family – therefore tend to strongly believe it is to provide the sperm for fertilising their eggs, and thereafter handing over his pay packet at the end of the month thereafter, forever!

    Of course it doesnt help that the average Safrican man is a drunkard, or tends to drink/get drunk quite often (along with the cosequential irresponsibility) and, the average Safrican woman has never had the benefit of growing up under the influence, guidance and control of a responsible adult male-father (and the consequent awareness/wisdom that comes with it.)

    July 10, 2011 at 5:33 am |
  3. Mile Madinah

    It's unfortunate that fathers are shying away from parenting resposibilities. Society which becomes oblivous of fatherly affection is bound to produce stigmas reflecting lack of morales and ethics.


    July 10, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  4. E.

    I don't have any scientific evidence to back this up but I think successful parenting has more to do with class rather than fatherless households, and that the lack of a male parent who owns up to his responsibilities is more a co-morbid of low class than anything else (which generally goes hand in hand with risk for crime, teenage pregnancy, etc). I was raised in a single parent, upper-middle class household by a very accomplished mother from a very accomplished family and I consider myself rather successful (for my age) and educated as well. I don't recall any negative feelings towards my father's absence (not true for his presence, which was disruptive, fleeting, and abusive), and in fact my father (from a lower class family but himself financially comfortable) and step-mother are still married, and their kids are not only not even pursuing tertiary education but appear to have no plans to. I don't mean this in a boastful or disdainful way, but rather as a suggestion that co-morbids of mother-only households be considered when claiming that a father's absence is detrimental to child-rearing.

    July 11, 2011 at 4:44 am |
  5. Truth.com

    Fathers letting down their children goes all the way back to the days of slavery and colonization ... it was a very common practice then ... children were born and literally sold by their own fathers or left to fend for themselves in squalor. Men need to take care of their children and play the important role of provider, guide, protector, and example ... but let's keep this all in context. This practice is nothing new and is not particular to South African men.

    July 11, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  6. Ernie

    @E. – I will respectfully disagree with you here. The article mentions that this issue goes beyond class and I agree with that wholeheartedly. Myself, I was raised in extreme poverty (won't go into details, but trust me, it's not for the faint of heart)...and despite having both parents who didn't do much beyond high school, 3 of us out of 5 children graduated college, another attended a very prestigious trade school and the one who didn't study any higher education, oddly enough, is the most financially stable out of all us (good steady job, a great family and made smart financial investments before the recession). I've met plenty of age peers from well to do families (many extremely wealthy) who were some of the laziest and biggest screw ups I've ever come across. No ambition – and no desire to better themselves. I strongly feel that the true reason is beyond the scope of class as from what I've experienced, a lot of it has to do with the individual and their soul, so to speak.

    July 11, 2011 at 7:02 am |
  7. DC

    Thanks for another male-bashing article CNN. Just a tip though, if you're going to cite statistics that purport men to be irresponsible, at least reference a formal survey or study. Also, if you're going for fairness, try interviewing some men. Apparently, only 'womyn' in power were asked for their opinions. But hey, if womminn are such a vocal authority on the nature of men, what do they need our help for?

    July 11, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  8. James

    It is not just in Africa – so many men in the US just make a baby then leave it to the mother to raise, it has destroyed our country, and the % of young black children who grow up without a father is much higher then other races... why?

    July 11, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  9. Geoff Holland

    With gender equity comes a huge increase in family separation.

    So now that we have half or more of all families separated, fathers often bail out because there is no gender equity in the Family Court, whether we are talking about South Africa, Australia, US, UK, Israel, Sweden or Japan. There is not one country which has had the courage or sense to implement a policy of a Presumption of Equal Parenting following family separation.

    All the pretence about reforms giving a better deal to dads is just that – pretence.

    If you wish fathers to take an active role in parenting after family separation, stop screwing them in the Family Courts and recognise their equal parenting rights. We don't want better treatment of dads at the discretion of the judges – we want a Presumption of Equal Parenting! This protects mothers' rights as well as fathers' rights.

    This will, in itself, not guarantee that all fathers will take up their responsibility, but it would be an excellent start. Their are also a much smaller percentage of mothers who have been given a raw deal in the Family Court, and they too would have their rights respected.

    The question of equal parental rights (gender equity in parenting rights) is a massive blind spot and area of denial of the feminist movement. Most feminist activists will not even discuss the issue (which is why I still support gender equity but am no longer a feminist).

    If there is child abuse, either on the part of the mother or the father, it needs to be acted on whether the family is together or separated. It is a separate issue from a Presumption of Equal Parenting. If there is no abuse, it is not up to the judge to decide which parent will be "in the best interests of the child." In Australia we implemented this policy in the 1950s when we took Aboriginal children away from their parents and gave them to white parents "in the best interests of the child" even though there was no child abuse.

    All parents have natural rights over their children whether they are in a family unit or not.

    Respect parents' natural rights and we may see more of them meet their parental responsibilities.

    July 11, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  10. Liefy

    Two people are responsible for the creation of the child: the father AND the mother. Given that there's a standard and history of the children in this particular culture being raised by the mother only, some awareness of the way things are has to be part of the decision "I am going to have a baby" by the mother, too. I mean, knowing that most of the men are probably going to leave, then deciding to have a baby anyway....you have to also consider that the women are sort of setting themselves up for a perpetuation of these conditions. Of course having a baby is not always a 'planned' circumstance, but many times I think it is a choice, too. Birth control is a possibility, an option, a gift, really, and a means to change this situation. Maybe decide to have a baby ONLY when you have some indication that the father really does want to stay and help you raise the child, if that's important to you? Is this not also an option in at least some of these situations?

    July 11, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  11. Samba

    This is a worldwide issue. The issue of no husband, no father to children of divorce, separation, and just about every other cultural move is a huge issue EVERYWHERE. We have accepted persons as individual units, capable of EVERYTHING as a single unit. We don healthcare in this fashion, we socially SUPPORT these behaviors as acceptable by throwing subsidies out there that actually encourage it. The men of today are so emotionally prattle that they are unable to give to a child, lest they hurt the child that they STILL are themselves. I know one man who went through a custody battle just to get back at the ex-wife, not for the welfare of the child. In the process, he took the freedom of his older brother who is autistic, away from him. His older brother was forced to move in with him to provide the finances to legally keep the child, but when the child began acting up and was "unable to be tamed" by the father, he eagerly surrendered the child to the mother. Childish greed led his expensive and emotionally disruptive custody battle, that in the end cost about a year's income to make a few lawyers more wealthy at the expense of the child's future well being, cost the freedom of an older brother with Asperger's Syndrome from his life-training camp, and cut into the learning tract of his very vulnerable 8 year old son, only to end four months later by just giving up and dumping the kid on his mother's doorstep. The child now has a legal record too, as he got in trouble with law enforcement. The father made himself physically ill from it all too. What is male wisdom??? Who benefits??? Why are men worldwide so immature? Why is divorce ACCEPTABLE??? Why is any behavior leading up to failure and divorce including alcoholism, drug abuse, a lack of sense of family economics, and BASIC survival skills ACCEPTABLE anywhere??? I haven't even touched on same-sex and it's lack of health on society...because that brings an acceptance that a parent can be emotionally absent due to illness and childish sexual choices. WHY is this all okay? It's NOT.

    July 11, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  12. skarrlette

    Why does everyone write books when they are commenting? Isn't this a quick comment board? If you want to write a book write a book and get it published.

    July 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  13. Frank

    Why just write about South Africa! I have worked in poor, middle class, and affluent schools, and it is the same story: the father is either not present, hardly involved, or not involved at all. Many spend their free time whoring for younger girls, playing mindless video games, drinking cheap beer, fishing, hunting, watching sports on TV, or complaining at the local pub about their wives or exes. Many are self centered, with under-developlented social skills. Why? Because society has enabled them for generations, their mom's spoiled them (only sister has to clean), and they get away with it because it is the norm in many places. Deadbeat dads (it's not just about money!) should be identified in the every neighborhood and their pictures should be posted online, just like child molesters. Hey-isn't child neglect a form of child abuse? Ya, there are plenty of great dads out there, but fewer and fewer these days. Uninvolved dads kills the dreams of their children, and ruin their families. Society (usually women and children) have to pay for dad's shabby, lazy ways. What ever happened to the New Dad of the seventies; involved, caring, thoughtful, committed, friendly? I guess he never really existed in any great numbers, except maybe on TV. Want your kid to go to jail, never to go to college, never have a regular job, be angry much of the time? Marry a deadbeat dad.

    July 11, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  14. comeon

    @ Geoff Holland

    Excellent points. I agree 100%. If society wants men to be fathers then they have to give them equal parenting rights...which starts from the courts and society. we can't say that fathers are instrumental to the well being of their kids lives then leave it up to women who may or may not be harboring some ill will to the father because the relationship ended. the importance of a father NEEDS to be validated AND protected in the courts.

    "society" you reap what you sow.

    July 11, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  15. Anne

    I can't believe they are recommending as a solution that more mothers should stay at home to take care of their kids full time! That seems so backwards. What would it mean for girl/women empowerment?

    July 11, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  16. Duane - St.Pete FL

    same can be said for the vast majority of black kids here in the US. The black males in this country are not being fathers like they should. Blacks make up like 12% – 13% of the over all population but account for 50% of the prison population.....I believe a large reason for that is the black males who father children are failing them. Failing to teach them to respect the law, failing them by not stressing to stay in school and study hard. Failing to teach the children to respect themselves and others (teachers, police), failing to teach them to pick up a paint brush or a broom and take pride in where they live....... We need to stop worrying about pointing these FACTS out as some stupid people will say I'm racist....I say they are a big part of the problem. Please don't let your white guilt stop us from saying and doing what we need to do to make this a better country. :o) Hold people (not just black males) accountable and boo hoo is someone gets their feelings hurt.

    July 11, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  17. A Samuel

    Thanks to liberalism,capitalism,atheism,feminism, and all the other isms,we have designed a failed society.
    I hate to think of the world in thirty years time when all this disadvantaged ,angry, rejected kids grow up to take over societies.
    We have failed miserably.this generation is cursed.

    July 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  18. NorCalMojo

    Oh look, another headline bashing fathers.

    If you want men to embrace fatherhood, it should be celebrated. Fathers are the scapegoats and fools of modern media. The combination of smart strong woman vs goofy idiot husband is the standard formula for sitcoms. Family courts see fathers as a way to keep women off welfare. Men who cheat are held up as alpha males.

    Good fathers do it despite cultural influences. It's becoming an act of defiance.

    Family courts do everything they can to make a man want to flee from the role.

    Men are avoiding the role of father because it's a thankless job and the benefits suck. Until fathers are more respected and receive a few perks for their troubles, you can expect to see the trend continue.

    July 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  19. Engineer.

    God had the perfect plan, Kids were supossed to be raised by DADDY and MOMMY. It is quite obvious the damage done to both fatherless kids and society whenever Dad is not in the picture. Need I say more?

    July 11, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  20. Dora

    U.S.A going down the same road... how about using birth control... better yet tell these women to keep their legs closed....and men their pants on. Since we became "enlightened" and stopped making out of wedlock childbirth a "stigma" – well... there you go.

    July 11, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  21. jane

    Just like the US, it is complicated. When society fails to value fatherhood as much as motherhood and puts the mother as the owner of the children and father as helper this happens. Fathers have to get custody as much as mothers when parents split and be viewed as providing care just as well but different. If you have laws that way and society thinks that is right and normal then you will not have absent fathers. Not a lot of fathers want to be mom's servant who is sneered at and devalued and told to bring in money by working 70 hours and come home and work 1/2 the hours of mom with the kids despite the fact she only worked 20 and then get told exactly what to do when and move this hand this way. When women view men as having equal say in the kids and equal authority and equal rghts as a parent then they will have equal partners.

    July 12, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  22. Johny

    I don't know about SA, but here in the US, my sons mother has denied my court ordered visitation for many years. When I was unemployed, I fell behind on my support payments. The sheriff came to my home and threatened to arrest me. When I explained that I was having hard times, he lectured me on how my son still has needs just because I earn less I still have responsibilities. I tried to explain that I was literally choosing between eating and paying rent but he interrupted me calling me a deadbeat. I asked him about speaking to my sons Mom about visitation and he said that he does not enforce visitation, I must get a lawyer and speak to a judge!?!? I have been totally excluded from my son's life by an angry mom and a system that values only my ability to supply money. Now explain to me again how it's all my fault if he turns out badly.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  23. Bill

    After so many decades of womens' rights movements and women's lib, why is anyone surprised. All us males have been told that we are no longer needed... women are supposedly our equals in all things (according to this world) so now that they have what they asked for they complain that men have abandoned their male/father responsibilities. Well, if you kick a dog a few times it doesn't take long for the dog to stop coming to you. You've gotten exactly what you asked for... a castrated male society.

    July 12, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  24. cordy

    Bill, you are full of bull. I am saddened by the plight of the children in SA but men in the US are not doing much of a job either. I have witnessed many who have kids and walk away and don't care what happens to them. They don't pay child support and get angry when enforcement comes after them to force them to meet their obligations. Kids are a long term committment. They have every right to be supported in all ways by both their mother and father. Too many times the father just disappears. Don't blame that on "women's rights", mysognist.

    July 13, 2011 at 6:34 am |
  25. Michael Rae

    I could not agree with bill more. I would like to take it one step further. When the non custodial parent (usually the father) the court will give custody to the mother no questions asked unless she is just totally incompetent then the court takes 25% for the first child and an additional 5% for each child up to 50% of your net pay. now the father has to work 2 and 3 jobs just to pay child support and a place to live and the money you give doesnt always to the child. So either you want the money or the father around you cant have both. my question to men under the current arrangment why would you want to have children.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  26. Pleb

    South Africa is just another lazy corrupt arrogant and dumb african nation but then again if you did not expect anything you won't be disappointed

    July 17, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  27. Pleb

    South africa is governed by and inhabited with pure scum of the earth

    July 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  28. fire

    oh really and america is not governered by scums? last time i checked all your presents were possesed by demons(illuminati). focus on that dept crisis of yours fucker.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  29. Nene

    Robyn Curnow apparently resides in Johannesburg (not sure if she's South African though) but her African reports leaves one quite livid on her real and deep knowledge of what's really going on...she needs to get out more. I hope CNN sacks her soon, she really sucks as an African correspondence. Maybe CNN should hire an African writer who's clued up and adds real insights to the stories...not only going on hear say and clutching at straws could do much better.If you don't belive me, read some of storeis on here, especially her article on "NIGERIA TO OVERTAKE SA BY 2025" Nigerians were laughing at her ludicrous proclamations...shows how little she knows. Can she shut up already!

    August 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  30. Nene

    lack of real and deep knowledge

    August 6, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  31. C

    There is two sides to the coin ... the "cowardly men" run away, but it is only because South African woman have relised the ecconomical benefits of lying in court, accusing men of ill treatment whether it is true or false, humiliating their men, having them arrested and imprisoned, so that they can have more money, (just go and look on the highly and open Protection Order Divorse Strategies on the internet , by South African lawyers ... highly aclaimed and succesfull ) ... while the South African courts are simply not inteligent enough to combine different proceedings from different courts, where the stories made up by the 'victim-mothers', chaging motives and statements at will from one proceeding to the next ... so run young man, run, the courts are agaist you, and you'll never see your two sons again ... because she lied, that you will kidnap them, then she lied that you will murder her, then she lied that you have abandoned them , the she lied that you have beaten her , .... run young man, run ...

    August 23, 2011 at 5:03 am |

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