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On being Mothered and Mothering – Fefe’s Story

Mother, Mama, Ma, Mom

Early this month we celebrated Mother’s Day. This has been a time to reflect on my own motherhood journey and to acknowledge my two mothers.

When I was 9 months old my mother took me to the Eastern Cape to be raised by my late grandmother “umama” because at the time it was difficult for her to manage as a domestic worker. I spent my first 1000 days between two provinces and two mothers. I came to live with my parents at the beginning of Primary school and I believe I share a similar story with many others who were raised by family and often have more than one mother.

I was the youngest grandchild, so mama would pour warm tea on a sauce for me to drink, I would sit on her lap when she went to village gatherings and she carried me on her back most of the time. I don’t remember ever getting a hiding from my grandmother, I was too precious to do any wrong at that time.

Life in the rural areas was carefree and safe, as a child I enjoyed free play along with the livestock and chickens. The role that grandmothers play is undeniably important and sometimes substitutes the role of an absent mother or even parents. When I came to live with my biological mother in Khayelitsha it felt like I was losing a part of myself. Things drastically changed and I had to adapt to a completely new environment and mothering style. Life in a township was rough with crime and the realities of poverty – as a result, my mother was very strict and protective but love was always present.

My motherhood journey has been filled with lonely and challenging situations.

I once had to make a decision to start a new job when my son was just 2 months old. I agree with the statement, “desperate times call for desperate measures!” In my desperation for employment, I only had a month of maternity leave while the other was spent in the hospital as my son had a serious bladder infection. I woke up from a hospital chair which I had gotten used to and prepared for work. I felt guilty for leaving my son in the hospital and also felt a bit of excitement for a progressing career. In my mind, I knew I had no choice, but my heart would break each morning I left him in someone else’s care (there was a roster between my mother and my partner). I now realise that this the way my own mother felt when she separated from me.

There are heartwarming, and very joyful moments too, like the unconditional love I receive from my little boy and watching him grow on an intellectual, physical and emotional level.

Having an involved partner, family and my circle of friends is a treasure. I have connected with other mothers at every opportunity- clinic visits, play dates, or shopping for baby things.

I gain a lot from the advice, assurance, and the platform to be heard and know I am not alone. As mothers, we often want to do it all on our own, which is often possible but it does not mean we don’t need help. We need to allow and enable people around us to care and help us raise our children, this includes fathers who want to be part of the journey as well.

Motherhood has connected me with my own mother on a deeper level and has also seen me lose my grandmother whom I remember for the warmest embrace. Being raised by these two incredible women has influenced the type of mother I have become and I see myself reverting between the two personalities.

As we imagine a society with children who thrive, we also need to imagine one which supports and nurtures mothers in all that they do. Communities need to protect women and children from abuse and provide a safe environment for all mothers and their children. Information needs to be easily accessible to mothers concerning their pregnancy and wellbeing. Our clinics and other social service offices need to be welcoming and open.

Above all, we need to honour the grandmothers, aunts, foster and adoptive mothers, and all caregivers out there who mother a child (often more than one child) because it truly does take “a village to raise a child”.

For additional ideas and resources on how to support a mother during the first 1000 days see
By Fefekazi Mavuso

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  1. I couldn’t agree more with Fefe as I fondly know her.My mother brought up all eight of us with the support of my late father who was a laborer in Johannesburg. I often look at her with admiration and with a tear in my eyes ,This strong mother who never left or gave up caring for those eight individual personalities and each with character traits and demands she had to put up with each of them.I looked at this frail old woman who poured all her strength and her youth as she got married young for us to all to have life. To think that she gave birth to all of us at home with the help of elderly women I always think of how traumatic it must have been with strong memories of previous births and that, it was to happen again which in some cases meant life or death to her. She made it through to all eight of us including surviving two last miscarriages.

    I am a mother myself with challenges that are a mole hill compared to what she had to face. The mentor-ship she gave to all of us both boys and girls alike was mostly done single handed as my dad was million miles away. Theirs was a union I admire as my father supported and approved her method of bringing us up in those years of his long absences.Hers was strict discipline in the form of where good hidings were applied if necessary. We were all exposed to all survival methods of all life forms (from house hold duties to heading of the cows with no exceptions imposed on gender roles,and respect for elders and the community where we were raised. Every mom and dad was your dad with similar mutual have good manners,love and caring for younger siblings.This is all attributed to strong values she taught us to respect for GOD ,education and sharing nothingness we owned with everyone .

    Today I am proud daughter, aunt, mom,a mentor.I watch my own daughter everyday and in all her metaphorical stages , emerging as strong young woman who has both me and her attributes.I take my hat of to this strong woman of fine character as my mom who stood at my father’s short absences and now has to permanently stand at his permanent absence as a widow,a mother ,grandmother,great-grandmother and still a stronghold in the family,the community and the village where I grew up. I cannot help but to feel sad to see her memory dissipating and only a frail body with aches and pains and for exchange with mine if it was possible. She endured so much, she took it in her walk it alone as though she were married to us than her soul mate , my late dad.

    I take off my hat to her and all women and mother’s of our parents’ generation.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story Tembi. We would love to get in touch with you directly. Could you perhaps send your email address to ?

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