Ingane Ingunina : Homeage to single mothers

Single motherhood's challenges in South Africa underscore the need for societal support and recognition of their resilience.
Published on
May 19, 2024

"Ingane Ingunina": The Journey of Single Motherhood

“Ingane ingunina”. This is a phrase I heard many years ago, and its significance has become more applicable in my own life as I walked the journey of (single) motherhood. Directly translated, it means “a child is their mother”; pointing to the notion that a child’s life – physically, socially, emotionally, psychologically and even spiritually – is inextricably linked to, and dependent on, that of their mother. As such, when the mother is doing well or otherwise, it follows that the child will fare in much the same way.

The Stark Reality of Single Parenting in South Africa

The single parenting statistics in South Africa are staggering, with around 40% of our Nation’s children growing up in single parent homes; the majority of which are headed by women, in rural and poorer communities. While it’s not difficult to understand how single motherhood happens (biologically speaking), what can be conceded is that there are myriad reasons that underpin the “why” – as studies have come to show. In fact, some of the more recent discourse has gone as far as exploring the idea of “married single mothers”, adding a new layer to the conversation around the pervasiveness of the single mother “experience” across the world.

The Complex Challenges Faced by Single Mothers

The “single mother experience” means that in considering the challenges faced, one is confronted (as I was) by the reality of how what should be simple decisions, are made complicated by factors that are otherwise taken for granted.

Advocating for Support and Understanding

I can already hear the “nobody sent you to have a child outside of wedlock” counter-argument, and I’ll admit that on the days when I didn’t want to throw a punch at those who make it, I’ve found statements like these to be overly simplistic and wholly dismissive of the conditions prevalent in our society, where child abandonment by at least one parent is rife and life routinely happens to all of us, thereby making single parenthood a possibility even for those who never imagined it as their lived reality.

Extending Grace and Support to Single Mothers

My firm position is that we cannot live in a world that punishes the mother who stayed and tried – often against significant odds – to raise her child alone, when the plans of a dual parent arrangement fell apart/changed. Instead, I dare propose that there’s room for the extension of grace, kindness and support to lessen the already steep climbs that many single mothers continue to face daily.

Recognizing and Celebrating the Strength of Single Mothers

It’s not for no reason that songs like Tupac's “Dear Mama” or Samthing Soweto’s “oMama Bomthandazo” continue to resonate so deeply with the children of single mothers across this nation. Those children (in adulthood) understand what it took for them to advance to some of the successes they attained in life.

A Call for Societal Support

We can and should do better to support single mothers. All our children deserve it and will be healthier, far more well-rounded individuals for it.

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