In a country where 60% of children have absent fathers and more than 40% of mothers are single parents, author Mantombi Makhubele found herself in this demographic at the age of 25 and without a qualification. In her book she gives an honest and vulnerable account of what it had to take for her to pursue her dreams while raising two young girls
“I remember arriving at the Randburg Magistrates’ parking lot for our first court appearance in my VW Golf Chico. We both arrived at the same time. He was in a white Audi Q7 SUV with his new wife and an entourage of his brothers and cousin, to defend himself on why he could not afford to pay child maintenance.
“On some days he came in his wife’s car, a black Range Rover Sport SUV. I felt as small as the car I was driving. I was humiliated. He would be extremely pompous as he walked out of the car wearing expensive clothes,” writes author Mantombi Makhubele, reflecting on her battles in court with the father of her two children, in her debut memoir Let’s Have Some Tea: A Single Mom’s Conversation.
As the title suggests, Makhubele shares a personal story on her journey as a modern day single mother navigating through challenges such as faith, divorce, career and relationships, as one would do over an intimate cup of tea with loved ones. In our country, 60% of children have absent fathers and more than 40% of mothers are single parents, according to the Human Science Research Council and the South African Race Relations Institute. The necessity for this conversation is imperative for South Africa, and especially on a continent where there is shame around divorce or not being married at a certain age.
“When I became a single mom I was a young 25 year old housewife with no degree and had to start from scratch,” says Makhubele, sharing how her mother looked after her kids when she made the sacrifice to return to school full-time after her divorce.
“I find that with single mothers, especially the younger ones who fall pregnant in high school, often when the difficulties of sending their child to their grandparents arise because they can’t afford to take care of their kids at that time, they end up giving up and staying at home — which ends up not helping them or the child.”
After returning to her studies the author worked as a journalist at the Sunday Times, which afforded her a two-bedroom flat, moving her daughters back to Johannesburg with her and sending them back to school. She had withdrawn maintenance charges against the father of the children who is referred to as “baby daddy” in the book. He often found ways to not show up for court dates and hid assets behind someone else’s name to cheat the system, freeing him of liability like most absent fathers. An exhausting back and forth she could no longer do, forcing her to take full control.
Makhubele found herself taking another leap of faith, cashing in all her pension in order to study towards her Masters’ Degree in Journalism at the London College of Communication — leaving her children with their grandmother for the second time. “It was emotional but I was investing in myself and realised that if I am thriving then the children will thrive,” Makhubele says.
“I was in my 30s and in a class with 25-year-olds who had just completed their undergrads, so I found myself constantly having to explain myself, especially if I mentioned something about having children.
“Everyone has a scar or an issue that they have dealt with in life but as single moms it’s as if your scar is on your forehead, you always have to explain yourself,” she says.
Even during her undergraduate studies Makhubele was the oldest in her class and understands why age is something that may frustrate many young single mothers and prevent them from going back to school or starting ventures they have always dreamt of. She hopes sharing her story will affirm them and remove the shame of it as she did in order to pursue her goals. Studying in the UK had always been one of her dreams and her unapologetically going for it speaks to her identity as a person apart from single motherhood. “Some girls don’t talk about it, or hide it because they are tired of explaining or feel bad about it and I hope this helps them with their identities.”
I was in my 30s and in a class with 25-year-olds who had just completed their undergrads, so I found myself constantly having to explain myself, especially if I mentioned something about having childrenMAKHUBELE FOUND HERSELF TAKING ANOTHER LEAP OF FAITH BY CONTINUING WITH HER STUDIE
Although the author is a true hustler and reflects on how she found herself having to work significantly harder to prove herself because of her age and being a single mother, she personifies the superhuman identity often attributed to single mothers. “Most spaces I found myself in, like my studies, forced me to beg because of my age and when I got in I had to work so hard to stay in that space. As a black woman you are already working twice as hard, and in my situation it was triple.
“As black people there is this thing of glorifying the strong black woman and not allowing her space to talk or cry, especially if she is on top of the corporate ladder. We forget that a majority of single mothers are put in that position, [it’s] not by choice, so I wanted to give a true glimpse of what it actually looks like to be the ‘strong black woman’ that everyone praises.”
Makhubele believes that having these conversations will aid in the healing of many single mothers and kids with absent fathers. “In most cases women who are single mothers were raised by single mothers because we have normalised it in our society that black women are expected to be single mothers and put them on a pedestal if they are lucky enough to be married.
“There is a long line of generational trauma that needs to be looked at to heal that and prevent it from happening in our society, getting men to take accountability,” Makhubele says.
The mother of two daughters who are now adults remembers feeling like an outsider and a failure. Although she speaks of her faith having gotten her through many challenges, she reflects on leaving the church for a period because she felt judged and as if they had turned against her.
This drove her passion to seek out and create safe spaces and support for single mothers of all kinds. “Imagine if we had a crèche in the middle of Wits or right next door or even within more corporate buildings so that girls could drop off their kids and go to class or work?
“I want that, I want systems like that for young girls, but it is unfortunate because these spaces are mostly run by men.”
Her book aims to shine light on this. Makhubele shares that writing would often be so painful it would bring her to tears. She was often conflicted with censoring herself because of what people would think, often plaguing her with feelings of doubt.
“It isn’t a book you want to come out immediately because it’s about my life and it’s almost like walking around naked. I couldn’t release it last year because I felt like I wasn’t ready, but early this year when I revisited I felt like I had healed completely, I could talk about everything with emotion and without fear of what the next person would think.”
Her mother, siblings, friends and eldest daughter have read it and find that it has helped them look at other single mothers in their lives differently. “I went through it and came out the other side. We can all share our truths when we are ready.”