BY ZIFISO MASIYE
Even as early as 18, Anele had broken quite a handful of hearts with rather reckless abandon. His brilliant exploits on the sports field had shot the boy’s name from virtual obscurity into schoolyard stardom. His fair looks and sharp wit made the budding, gangly hunk an early hit with girls in his and the neighbouring schools. Somewhere in the city, some two, not-so-fortunate girls were already dropouts, nursing his reckless sperm, and a damned, dimming future. Having rendered them premature mothers, he had squirmed his way out of theirs and the lives of their babies and moved on.
Himself born to a roving, absentee father, Anele had only vague, flashing memories of his own mom. She was one in a chain of women his dad had been with, had bedded casually or married briefly in his long casanova career.
No. She had not dumped her son. Yet her only chance at life, at peace and at marital bliss ahead, entailed that she more or less washes her hands of her past and her beloved son. Much broken, she moved on!
Anele roughed out life’s budding years in the care of the meanest, bitter, abused and abusive stepmother. One whose consistent and lasting message to him was that Anele was a worthless piece of junk that deserved pain and all the disdain life could visit upon him. One who made it her personal mission to remind him and underline every day that he was absolutely unlovable by anyone, anywhere and that Anele would always amount to nothing. Never once calling him by his name, (his name was Wena!) she always concluded her bitter tirades and vengeful sermons with “Wena! what are you?” And the child would promptly respond with his religiously rehearsed answer, “Nothing!”
Creeping slowly out of his home “prison cell” and finding his early feet on the immediate social front, young Anele loved music. But no song was nearly as beautiful to his sore soul and abused ears as the sound of a girl… any girl really, uttering the words “I love you, Anele”.
How could he, the scum of the earth, the most unlovable piece of “nothing” ever find favour, let alone love by anyone? Anele’s deep-seated self-pity saw him embrace any suggestion of validation or slightest show of affection with deep gratitude and unbridled alacrity. He fell into so many arms like a fly does into milk!
I guess as they say, life goes on.
Yet behold, a broken child, sired in toxic relationships and raised by broken women in a toxic community is an immediate recipe for disaster, a danger unto himself and those around him… utterly incapable of generating and sustaining constructive and responsible social relations. I don’t know how to underline the importance and value of raising children in the warmth and complete love of both their parents and their families.
Today Anele represents up to 44% of society — abused, broken and abusive fathers —- men in branded suits who have no idea where the children they brought into the world are, what the price of NAN is, fathers who could never point you to the direction of Toppers!
Ever occurred to you that what has become a whole abandoned community of humans that we have christened “street kids” are actually children of real men living among us? That every miserable, shattered woman out there, struggling alone to bathe, to feed, to raise and educate so-called fatherless children was a shining star, abused and abandoned by a dude next to you, your buddy, your brother, your idol, your choir leader?
It is International Women’s Month and my thoughts were inspired by my brother Malunga who rather poignantly posits: “I have zero respect for fathers who deliberately fail to look after their children. I understand at times circumstances may be beyond one’s control, but still hustle and/or show up for your kids. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
I’m as guilty as they come and it took many broken hearts and my late father’s stern words that; “You see the madman down the alley, he too boasts enough sperm to father a child… Commit to live with the consequences of your actions, if you’re any different from the loony. Any male can be a father, but not every father is a dad!”
I tried to explain to the men’s conference how the primary source of our women and children’s woes lies in our bad management of relationships.
We are woefully clumsy at the departure lounge, as much in the politics as we are in social relations. (Asikwazi ukuvalelisa. Asikwazi ukutshiya kwakhiwe!) We have this inexplicable consuming sense of absolute ownership and permanence when it comes to relationships and marriage. Ukwehlukana in relationships is so frowned upon by the parties to the relationship and their respective families that any offspring from that relationship are immediately rendered endangered! Invariably the termination of a love relationship in our culture is necessarily acrimonious… Owaliweyo kuthiwa uyinja… Lowale omunye is described in all the unholy terms you may imagine. What may have been a good love relationship is suddenly regretted and reduced to some pile of shameful rubble! It is not uncommon for both parties and their families to draw a line and declare a permanent war or stand-off, kungasakhulunyisanwa…
You find the very man, who assembled uncle , auntie and siblings, invited you to appreciate and embrace the apple of his eye into the family, suddenly doing an about turn, actively campaigning to all his siblings, family and clan that they should demonise his fallen out apple and all her family and their cups and dogs and cats!
Often, and depending on the kind of influence such “vagabond” wields around the family, gullible family members will simply follow along his blind path!
ln some cases, many in fact, the poor children are fed poisonous information and hurtful lies against whichever of the parents is not in possession or custody of them. They are often banished from interacting, communicating or otherwise relating with their other parent or their cousins from the other end ngoba bayaloya, bazolifundisa ubuthakathi.
This sounds extreme. But think through izihlobo around you who went through separations , divorces and stuff… you will notice just how real and just how widespread this sad social phenomenon is. There is total collapse and loss of goodwill here. What then do you think becomes of the fate of the innocent children born into such a toxic end? Our traditional society was much better structured to deal with these issues. The institutional arrangements, particularly focused on the continued and future welfare of the children.
In similarly absurd situations , it is not uncommon that you find a married man walking on egg-shells around matters relating to those of his offspring that he sired before or outside the confines of his current marriage.
Sometimes men have to surreptitiously smuggle child support out of home. The mere mention of that child on the dinner table is virtual taboo… It occasions general discomfort to everyone, blushes to the man and an upset tummy if not an outright tantrum to the wife. What dishonesty!
Yet as always, even then, it is better for the man. In even more ridiculous cases, women who have come into a marriage with a child or children of their own are objects of severe stigma and social ridicule. They are labelled with unprintable names , and so are their “outsider” children. In many instances , a single mother who is about to marry or remarry would rather pass their child to her mother or her sister and /or completely dissociate herself from that motherhood , and live throughout her marital life as one who only had children in her new marriage for some modicum of marital peace and social acceptance. Im not a woman, but i doubt there could be more dehumanising pain than to have to conceal one`s own womb product, to pretend your own child ain`t yours! “Its either my marriage or you my child… Lapha engendele khona kabafuni lakuzwa ngawe!”
The kinds of things that children that happen to be born before or outside of so-called wedlock experience and are subjected to, can be absolutely shocking and repulsive. Yet not only is the incidence of such children on the increase, but family and institutional mechanisms to protect their rights as children and human beings is less and less effective with time…
As we walk through the month of women, may we think consciously through their multiple life jeopardies. These deeply decisive and life-defining dysfunctions of our society are treated as tolerable triflings and small inconveniences we can live with… Until some generation calls for a deep enquiry and deliberate conversations around such as these misalignments , we remain a nation of woeful clowns!