Superhero fathers stand up for their rights

South Africa’s divorced fathers may need to start ironing their favourite superhero costumes and prepare for a headline-grabbing stunt.

The South African chapter of Fathers 4 Justice (F4J), an international civil rights movement fighting for children to have equal access to both parents after a divorce, is planning to execute high-profile stunts at least once a month.

F4J has made headlines all over the world with its non-violent actions where fathers dressed up in superhero costumes display the movement’s banners in unlikely places. In September last year, a member of the British division of F4J climbed on to a balcony of Buckingham Palace in a Batman suit and stayed there for five hours.

F4J started 10 years ago in the United Kingdom, and has now grown to the United States, The Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Italy, Sweden and South Africa.

Medical doctor Steven Pretorius is the founder and chairperson of the Pretoria-based South African F4J, which was launched in June this year.

Pretorius told the Mail & Guardian Online: “In not more than a month or two, we hope to have some high-profile stunts. We plan to do this at least once a month. We do have enough fathers who want to do a stunt.”

F4J in South Africa has 15 000 supporters, of which 200 members are “prepared to go on a crusade”, says Pretorius. Members have to be approved before they can take action in the name of F4J.

The organisation does a background check on anyone who applies for membership.

“No one with a criminal record is allowed to become a member; each wannabe member has to disclose one,” explains Pretorius. “The problem is that some fathers are falsely accused of child abuse. We support those members through the trial, we support them through the process and we give them advice because many fathers have no clue of what lies in front of them. They will be financially ruined.”

The membership fee is R500 a year — and, surprisingly, 30% of its members are female.

“F4J is not a men’s movement. It is for the child. The one-parenting situation not only destroys the old family but also the new family. But now women see what is going on,” says Pretorius.

The organisation’s main goal is to raise awareness of the plight of many parents, mainly fathers, who have restricted or no access to their children, he says.

“The organisation will also assist those having problems with maintenance and those going through difficult divorces.

“Mothers in South Africa automatically get custody [over the children after a divorce]. We maybe see the child two or four hours a month; in this way it is impossible to create a bond with the child. There must be shared responsibility for the benefit of the child; we can’t just keep tearing apart families.”

All F4J’s actions hold to its manifesto, which aims to “put an end to the systematic removal of one parent (mostly fathers and their families)”.

Earlier this year, F4J held demonstrations in Pretoria and Cape Town where a number of superhero fathers took the day off work to attract public attention to the “injustices of family law in South Africa”.

More actions will come, says Pretorius.

“This is an ongoing campaign; we have to make people aware of the amount of lives that get destroyed. Obviously we plan our actions and demonstrations in South Africa, we decide where and when something happens; we do have to be a bit careful since we also don’t want to be looked at as not being serious [because of the superhero outfits],” he says.

“We are planning some more demonstrations; there will be one with Christmas. It is still in the making. We are going to hand out Christmas presents to children we don’t have [access to].”

F4J works together with Children in Legal Disputes, for example, and is now trying to build a relationship with the government.

“We have had contact with [President Thabo] Mbeki’s office and the National Council of Provinces. We also spoke to the Democratic Alliance. It is not easy to get their [the government’s] doors open.”

A spokesperson for the national Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Kaizer Kganyago, said he doesn’t know what F4J’s intentions are.

“I did hear from them, but they are a new organisation. They haven’t introduced themselves, saying, ‘This is who we are.’ We work with NGOs, but we don’t know F4J. I mean, equal rights, what do they mean with that? I don’t know what they are talking about.”

“I don’t know much about F4J,” said Sam Moufhe, from the Gauteng department of social development. “If the child is abused, we take it [the child]; we do everything in the child’s interest.

“I am not sure how we will fit in, working together with F4J. But if child abuse is brought to our attention, we react on that.”

On the net

Fathers 4 Justice

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Elvira Van Noort
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