Practices and discourses of fathering among middle class West African fathers in South Africa

Year: 2016

Working Paper Number: 390

Unit: FaSRU

Author: Stanford Mahati, Elena Moore, Jeremy Seekings


Growing numbers of West African men have migrated to cities elsewhere in Africa, as well as to cities across the global North. Those who are fathers have recast their roles. This paper examines transnational fathering practices and norms among documented, married, middle class migrant Nigerian and Ghanaian men in Johannesburg (South Africa). These migrant fathers were very critical of the South African environment, which they uniformly regarded as bad for child-raising. In almost all cases, they chose to leave their families in West Africa. Most fathers are playing the role of economic provider, but this does not preclude their playing a range of other roles in their children’s lives. New communication technologies allow them to remain in contact with their wives and children, taking part in everyday activities including prayers, routine discipline, and decision-making. The roles played by migrant fathers were secured by the kinship webs that supported their wives and children at home in West Africa. The findings challenge existing gendered understandings of who does emotion work in transnational families, as these West African transnational fathers work to maintain an ‘absent presence’ as good fathers, making themselves emotionally and semi-physically (albeit virtually) available to their families.

Publication file: 

WP 390 - Mahati et al.pdf