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Silence in Young Womens’ Narratives of Absent and Unknown Fathers from Mpumalanga Province, South Africa

Abstract

Research suggests that South African youth use silence as a sign of respect and gratitude and to maintain family and kinship bonds. There has not been much research to help us better our understanding of this phenomenon. This paper explores the strategic use of silence in narratives of absent fathers collected from the Mpumalanga province. Twenty-one-hour, one-on-one, fieldworker-respondent, semi structured interviews in their local languages, were conducted with women aged 15–26 years old. Interviews were gender-matched, audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and translated into English. Thematic, and some elements of discourse analysis, were used to analyse the data focusing on motivations behind silence in familial relationships. Findings show that motivations for upholding silence within the home were to show respect and gratitude, and avoid upsetting a bothersome mother. The dynamics of silence reported here are similar to those found in narratives of psychological distress and abuse among young South Africans. A novel theme was that of avoiding speaking with a chronically ill mother lest this made her condition worse and recovery difficult. This research suggests a need to equip young women with ways of expressing themselves within families without fear of being seen as disrespectful, ungrateful and a burden to others.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the XXXICP2012 for the CHANGE Fellowship fund, the Jacobs Foundation, the National Research Foundation of South Africa and IUPsyS. We thank the study participants for their time and contribution of data. We thank the members of the research team, Grace Khunou, Thandeka Mdletshe, Vuyani Pambo, Tidimalo Padi, Motlalepule Nathane-Taulela and Priscilla Gerrand for support in the execution of this study.

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Correspondence to Mzikazi Nduna.

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Nduna, M., Sikweyiya, Y. Silence in Young Womens’ Narratives of Absent and Unknown Fathers from Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. J Child Fam Stud 24, 536–545 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-013-9866-3

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Keywords

  • Absent father
  • Psychological distress
  • Silence
  • Young women
  • South Africa