By Lucas Ledwaba
Banele Malinga would often sit in his jail cell and wonder if he shouldn't kill his father when he was released.
"He left me when I was in crèche. He never did anything for me in his life. He never cared whether I drank or ate anything," said Malinga (35), who is undergoing rehabilitation for alcohol abuse at the SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) in Soweto.
Malinga was raised by relatives and grandparents following the break-up of his parents' relationship.
A recent report, The First Steps to Healing the South African Family, by the SA Institute for Race Relations, suggested that children growing up in dysfunctional families were more likely to have poorer educational outcomes, go on to be unemployed, practise risky sexual behaviours, commit crime or use alcohol and drugs.
The report explained that the history of apartheid, particularly the migrant labour system and poverty, had greatly affected family life.
"The HIV/Aids pandemic has also profoundly affected the health and wellbeing of family members, and has consequently placed an added burden on children," the report revealed.
"Children living in child-headed households are also assumed to have much lower school attendance rates than children living with parents or other caregivers.
"Although HIV/Aids has had a profound effect on the number of single parent households, there is another worrying trend – the increase in the number and proportion of absent, living fathers."
Malinga was twice arrested, convicted and jailed for drunken driving. He started drinking at 20 as a way of escaping the stress of lacking a well-structured family.
"When I drank, I felt better. I dropped out of school in Grade 10 because I was always thinking about my situation.
"Sometimes I used to feel guilty and ask myself why I had to be born into such a situation," he said.
Olga Mampe, a social worker and manager at Soweto Sanca, said children who were without proper family support structures often felt anger towards their parents and tended to seek an escape in drugs and alcohol.
Mampe indicated that even children who lived with both their parents could resort to alcohol and drugs if they felt neglected.
Emily Mabusela, a youth researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said although an unstable family background contributed to erratic behaviour and substance abuse, it wasn't the only factor.
She said: "There are many children from broken families who excel and end up raising their own families. Human behaviour is far too complex to put into one category."
Mabusela added that some children showed more resilience than others in dealing with stressful situations which often played a key role in the kind of life they chose.
Thulani Khumalo of White City in Soweto said he dropped out of school after failing Grade 11 because he couldn't cope with the stress of not having a father in his life.
He experimented with dagga and alcohol, but after two months of roaming the streets he decided to return to school. He passed his matric and enrolled at the Ipelegeng Youth Development Centre where he learnt life skills and computer literacy.
Khumalo, who currently works for an non-governmental organisation in Meadowlands, Soweto, said: "I still have that anger. Somehow I feel that if my father had been involved in my life, I would have made much better progress. But I've decided that whatever I do, I should never be like him."
In City Press