Mhlongo specifically focused on the perspectives and experiences of fathers aged between 18 and 24.
This work was rewarded when Mhlongo graduated from UKZN with a Masters in Population Studies degree.
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. The youth unemployment rate is sitting at 55.2% resulting in the challenging environments South African men find themselves as fathers in. They try but sometimes fail to fill the perceived role of a father as a financial provider,’ she explains.
Her research findings reveal that young fathers had negative experiences of fatherhood whilst growing up as many of them had absent fathers. Despite this, the findings underscore 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 the importance of cultural norms in maintaining family and society values, but also suggests that given the current socio-economic conditions, ‘these beliefs should be accommodative of young, unmarried, non-resident and unemployed fathers’.
She was grateful for the support system of her family, friends and supervisor Professor Pranitha Maharaj.
Mhlongo plans to do her PhD and advises students to work hard and believe in themselves.