The study also found that father involvement was dependent on the fulfilment of certain cultural practices such as the damage payment and ilobolo. Picture: Pixnio

An interest in family dynamics led to Nokwanele Mhlongo doing research on the effects of absent fathers on families and childcare responsibilities.

She specifically focused on the perspectives and experiences of fathers aged between 18 and 24. 

Mhlongo says there is a remarkably high number of absent but living fathers in South Africa. "Considering the socio-economic conditions of this country, there are certain factors that hinder paternal involvement," Mhlongo explained. 

"The youth unemployment rate is sitting at 55.2% resulting in the challenging environment South African men find themselves in as fathers. They try but sometimes fail to fill the perceived role of a father as a financial provider."

Her research findings revealed that young fathers had negative experiences of fatherhood while growing up, as many of them had absent fathers. Despite this, the findings underscored that young fathers want to be more involved, and better than their biological fathers.

Young fathers cited unemployment and poverty as the major contributing factors for disengagement - they felt emasculated, as they were not able to assume the role of a provider but continued to maintain contact with their children, which was often not the case among the older generation of fathers. 

The study also found that father involvement was dependent on the fulfilment of certain cultural practices such as the damage payment and ilobolo.

Mhlongo believes her study will benefit society as it highlights that fatherhood extends beyond biological criteria. "Promoting paternal involvement should focus on biological fathers as well as social fathers as they play an important role in the upbringing of children," she noted. 

She also touched on the importance of cultural norms in maintaining family and society values but also suggested that given the current socio-economic conditions, "these beliefs should be accommodative of young, unmarried, non-resident and unemployed fathers".

Mhlongo graduated from UKZN with a Master’s in Population Studies degree. She now plans to do her PhD.