Mother's Day is a time for me to reflect and respect

MY MOTHER passed away more than 30 years ago and it still seems like yesterday when she was around. I don’t need a special day to think about her but, I guess, all the noise that is made around Mother’s Day does assist in making her top of mind at this time of the year.

I was fortunate that for most of my growing up years, I had my mother and father around, expect for a brief period when my parents were separated and my father took my two older brothers with him and my mother took me (the baby) and my two sisters with her.

They lived apart for a few months until we got news one day that we had been successful in getting a rental council house in Hanover Park. This was the first time my family had a home to call our own and it allowed us to be together once again. Later, we were able to buy a house in Mitchells Plain which, I suppose, was a logical development for our family.

Maybe one day I will write more about this period and all the things that went on then but, for now, I want to focus on my mother and what she meant to me.

There are certain perks to being a boy, and the youngest at that, when it comes to mothers. Mothers always seem to have a soft spot for their boys. I still see it with my women friends and their boys. It is like boys can do nothing wrong in the eyes of their mothers.

I saw it many times when I was a young reporter writing about gangsterism on the Cape Flats. I have yet to meet anybody who died in gang violence who was a gangster, at least in the eyes of their mothers. Their sons always remained innocent to them. This is not to say that innocent people do not die in gang violence; too many do.

I remember the jealousy of especially my sisters when we were growing up, because they felt I was being spoiled by my mother, and how they took “revenge” on me when she was not around. I also remember how my brother forced me to fight against other boys in an attempt to “toughen” me up. I suppose he believed that it was not enough to have a tough character, but that you needed to be tough physically as well.

The role of mothers, especially in the rough neighbourhoods of the Cape Flats, are not always acknowledged properly. In most cases they are the glue that keeps families together. They are also the ones who have the most influence on their children.

In an environment where there are thousands of errant fathers, who do not take responsibility for their children, the role of mothers become even more important in guiding their children and influencing their life choices.

A few weeks ago we were at a family wedding in Mitchells Plain and taking pictures in Westridge Gardens, when my sister noticed a young man walking with his son. She said that it was strange to see young men taking responsibility for their children in Mitchells Plain. I had assumed that it would be the norm for young men to do that.

My mother was not educated in the traditional sense. In fact, she worked sometimes as a domestic worker and sometimes in a factory.

But I refuse to call her uneducated because she knew the value of education and tried to instil this knowledge in her children. I suppose, because I was the youngest, it was easier to instil this in me. She encouraged me to read with the result that, when I went to primary school (we did not have the option to go to pre-primary or day-care in those days) I could already read books meant for children in higher grades. My love for reading continues to this day.

My mother also instilled in me the value of tolerance, something that I struggled with at first. Now, as an adult, I see why it is important to be tolerant towards those who are perceived to be different to you.

But the most important lesson that I learned from my mother is to respect women, all women. I saw the way she and other women were struggling to raise their children against incredible odds, and yet they carried on without complaining.

This made me determine to teach my three daughters, who could become mothers themselves someday, not to depend on men for their survival and success. I realised that, if my mother had not struggled like she did and had access to resources that many in my friendship circle take for granted, she might have been able to make a much bigger impact on society and the world.

I am glad that she was able to impact on my world. I hope that I will be able to pay homage to her by making sure that I will continue to promote and share the values that she introduced to me – without even realising it. Those values have served me well and continue to serve me well.

Happy Mother’s Day.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 13 May 2017)