Baba Bantu on Thursday, 13 October 2011, asked on the Facebook group SHABAKA-Men of Afrika what were the most challenging pressures Afrikan men faced today. The question could not have come at an interesting time because on that day I had an interesting discussion with my colleagues. This is a response to my question.
But here’s a little background… I’m my mother’s only child, raised by my late mother together with her brother Jack, who I call Papa and his wife I call Mma. Hope that makes sense. Papa raised me like a father should and took me like his son to this very day. He and his wife, Mma, raised me together with their four daughters. And putting myself amongst their daughters, I am the third born and the only son in the family. Papa used to be very strict but at least not now and we [his children] at least knew what he wanted and did not want and what he expected of us. To this very day, a lot of people are just afraid of him because of that [his strictness and seriousness]. But we, his children, know him very much and understand him more than any other person in the community. Mma, on the other hand, is a very quite person. I love them very much. Sometime before my mother passed away – during my first year atNorth West University’s Mafikeng campus or before that – she begged me for a grandchild, a request I rejected outright because it sounded in appropriate at the time.
I grew up in a village herding livestock from 1995 until matric, 2003. Even while at university (between 2005-2007) I used to herd our livestock when I went home during recess. I even had a goat which had since multiplied itself but because of a number of reasons – lack of a reliable shepherd, drought and theft – Papa had since sold his livestock at a Vanties (don’t know the English word, but it’s more like where livestock is auctioned). My sisters and I grew up together and learned to be responsible children to this very date. Herding livestock after school every and during weekend had deprived me of the opportunity to being romantically involved until I was of a certain age. This, now I know, honour, believe and thank God for, was a blessing in disguise. More than anything else, it was for my own good because when I look at my peers today who at the time when I was always seen walking behind livestock either grazing or when I went home in the afternoon and many of whom had an ample time to being romantically involved and doing things many other kids envied – I wonder if herding livestock had not kept me busy and away from the life they lived at the time. I also wonder at the kind of person I would have become. Over the years I have learned what is wrong from what is right and Papa, my late mother Natefo and Papa’s wife, Mma, helped me throughout. And boy am I grateful for that. Whose child would I have been, or where would I be had it not been for them telling my mother “out of love” (as Desmond Tutu would say) that a few months after giving birth to me that she should go and look for employment to maintain me. When they told my mother this, they also told her not to worry about me because they would look after me and that I would eat whatever they ate too.
Today I am 25-yearld old and working. Throughout my interaction with people in this world, many of whom were/are colleagues and friends – I am amazed and shocked at just how many of them equate working [and being 25-year-old, I guess] with having a child only because “time is running out”. This, unfortunately, was the conversation I had with my colleagues today. I found their thinking of what makes a man a man, and why a man [or those who regard themselves as men] should have a child very worrying for my liking. It was further amazing how their thinking on these things were influenced by the society in which they lived. I tried to the best of my possibility and from experience to explaining to them that being the young man I am today [and as described above] did not mean that I could now do certain things just because of what the society expects of me. And just because they, for example, had kids at, say, 26, it does not mean that I should follow suite just because “time is running out for me”. I mean, what’s the rush?
I mentioned to my colleagues at the time that I knew of many people in the family who were mostly in their old-age stage and others outside who were in their middle-age who did not have children of their own for a number of reasons yet continued to raise children of their relatives, brothers, sisters and in-laws as theirs because they just loved children. At that time I also mentioned to them that as far as I could remember – I did not know of any individual who had chosen not to have a child because of a career, afraid that a child will interfere with their career. Often it is women who said to be afraid of having children because they are afraid they will affect negatively their successful careers. But personally, I do not know of one to date.
At the same time, I also mentioned to my colleagues that some of these individuals who did not have children of their own – especially those in their old-age stage – have often been seen as being harsh, unfair and inconsiderate to others’ children “because they do not have their own children and do not know the pain of a child and the pain of being a mother”. They are often ill-treated by some family members because of something they do not have control of: bearing their own children.
The reason why I mentioned this to my colleagues was just so that they should not incorrectly think that I am stalling in having my own children because they think I am old enough and or because “time is running out” for me just simply because they “expect of me” to. Further, this was made known and emphasised to them so that – having seen people who did not have children of their own being ill-treated by those family members who have children of their own – they know and be aware that I have seen and witnessed both side of having and not having children of my own. This, personally, is so that I do not, unlike some of my friends out there, do not have children with anyone just because it is found an easy exercise to make them but that I am saying this because I know very well that “any man can make a baby but it takes a real father”. In so doing, I hope and pray that the time will come and that the “potential mother of my children” would come my way or that I will go find and mould her to be”.
I, however, am not sure if it is or not but if it is then it is a weak reasoning for me. This because at the same time I told my colleagues that one of my grannies (who does not have children of her own but has raised many of her sisters’ children and many other grandchildren and great-grandchildren over the years) asked me in August this year while I was on leave and even early this year when I intend bringing a Makoti and the grandchildren for her before she dies as she’s in her old-age stage. She said even though she wanted a Makoti and grandchildren this did not mean that I should take any girl I see on the street and make a baby with. She further advised that I careful when falling for any girl because there are some among them (the girls) who might be dying to not only have children with me but who also want to be my potential partner for life. But unless it is God’s will, I told my colleagues that I would not willy-nilly decide not to have children of my own.
Going back to the question – and taking into account the little background provided above – I have always, in my experience at least, believed that “societal expectation of us” is one of the main and worrying challenges and the pressure under which “Afrikan men face today”. It is further worrying that when we do not live to the expectation of our society (friends/family/colleagues) we feel like we have failed or that we are failures. As a result we – or at least those who feel that pressure and can no longer stand it and therefore succumb to it – end up being frustrated and doing things that we would not have done under normal circumstance. At the end of the day we end up doing things not to please us but to please those who have expectations of us. It is further upon not living to those expectations – or when we fail to achieve them – that we become stressed. To Afrikan men, many of them start feeling less of men, that they are not worth being called men, that they are failures, that they are weak, and that they would grow to being useless fathers and or family men.
Writing on SHABAKA – Men of Afrika wall on Facebook on Thursday [13 October 2011], many fellow brothers mentioned a lot of things as one/some of the challenges we men of Afrika face. Ego, identity [Africanism/Africaness/culture, etc], independence (economically, intellectually), spirituality, westernization and historical knowledge, to mention a few, were just some of the challenges Afrikan men face. However, I truly believe that all these mentioned by fellow brothers on Facebook may have emanated from the main challenge which we Afrikan men face: “societal expectation of us”. Well, some may want to differ but let me further explain why I think that is the case.
Identity, whether culturally or not, is informed by the society in which we grew up. As a result, for as long as this society has us Afrikan men under its spell or that for as long as it has expectations of us which we have to fulfill or deliver – we will never live independently.
Therefore we are very much likely not to enjoy any independence at all either economically, spiritually or even intellectually because we cannot think for ourselves. Instead we let our society think for us and that we do not or cannot think for ourselves, hence this “societal expectation of us” challenge I believe is what Afrikan men face today.