By Letter – The Single Mother  Aug 20, 2018

I want to share my utter disappointment in South Africa’s maintenance courts with your readers. The issue of child maintenance is both a serious and complex matter to every single mother, including myself. 

I recently applied for child maintenance as the father of my child, who happens to be a doctor, has not done his duty and supported his son financially since the beginning of the year. 

This year has been the hardest I’ve ever had to face. For the past year, my child’s father had been honouring his obligation to support our son, but as soon as I left him – after he became aggressive towards me – things started to change. 

Because I was unemployed at the time, I decided to take the matter to court. Even after a lot of people, including the errant father, told me that I should go there and that the courts would reduce the maintenance payments to R500, I decided I would nonetheless take that route. 

I had watched my son deprived of a chance to go to creche because I couldn’t pay his fees. I had wrapped my son in a towel and garbage bag because I couldn’t afford to buy diapers. 

I had knocked on the doors of neighbours to ask for money and food for over 3 months while this man continued living his life without any care in the world. The moment I told him I was taking him to court he started covering his tracks, doing what he should have done from the beginning. 

After three months I finally had a date for the court but when I got there he was a no-show. He claimed that he never received the subpoena. Fair enough.

What baffled me though was how cold and defensive the case officer was towards me. She was quick to tell me how he said he was supporting the child and that I was crazy and throwing all kinds of insults at me. 

I told her that I never denied that he did support the child financially. She continued telling me how a child should be supported by both parents. How is that possible when one parent is unemployed? I asked her. The family has to support the child, she said. 

I was appalled by that statement; not because I’m an orphan and have been since the age of two; but because I didn’t understand how and why a family has to support a child whose father is a medical doctor, who earns approximately R70 000 monthly. And why is paying R3 000 monthly to a two-year-old son who he sees twice a year so much for him that court suggests family has to help him out? How little sense does that make really? 

Why should the mother’s family be obligated to support a child they didn’t ask should be born? How many women and young mothers have been told the same thing by court officials and sent home with R500 for child maintenance because the family can fork out the rest? 

How many fathers have this court favoured over the years; depriving children of the opportunity to attend good schools because the mother cannot afford it on her salary alone? 

Is it not enough that we raise these children as single mothers alone? That we are the ones having sleepless nights when these children are sick, the ones spending weeks in the hospital alone by their sides while the so-called fathers are nowhere to be seen? Is that not enough contribution towards the child’s wellbeing? 

How is it fair that a person earning R6 000 monthly should contribute the exact same amount as the person earning R60-70 000 monthly? 

Shouldn’t the court be forcing parent(s) to cut down on unnecessary expenses such as instalments on flashy cars if you have a child to support? Shouldn’t that be the first priority? 

We know that sometimes people create a lot of debt just to avoid supporting their own children. Why is the system favouring such men while claiming to be providing justice for these children?

Yes, some baby mothers use the system to hurt some good fathers out there. But by now these officials should know which questions to ask to separate the mothers with genuine concerns from those looking to exploit their former partners financially.

I know my son’s father can afford to pay the R3 000 monthly and he can do this for his three other children as well without hurting his pockets. All I want is the court’s assurance that the money will always be there at the end of every month, so I never have to wonder whether or not he’s in a giving mood for that month. 

This assurance is vital so I don’t have to constantly fight with him about money. So that I can just focus on being the good mother that I never had the chance to have, to my son. 

South Africa still has a long way to go in equalizing women’s rights and in the empowerment of the strong women who are raising men who continue to abandon their own sons and daughters. And the sad truth is that the same women in these offices are the very same that continue to oppress other women. It’s a shame, a very sad shame.

* This is an edited version of a reader letter received by IOL.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Single Mother
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