South Africa is set to become the first country in Africa to introduce shared parental leave after a high court ruled that both parents must have the right to time off after the birth of a baby or adopting a child.
The landmark judgment allows parents to choose how to divide four months parental leave between them.
Previously, mothers were entitled to four months’ leave while fathers or partners were allowed a maximum of 10 days.
While there has been growth in the number of African nations guaranteeing paid leave for fathers over the past 20 years, in many countries it remains below three weeks. Some only allow two or three days off.
Campaigners have labelled it a tremendous step. Wessel van den Berg, MenCare officer at Equimundo, a gender equality organisation, said: “It raises the bar on leave for parents in a wonderful way. I’m thrilled our law is becoming more in line with our constitution.”
He added that while the judgment was “a significant milestone”, it also highlighted the need for further reforms to align policy with the reality of life in the country. Politicians have two years to refine and develop the law.
Nkululeko Mbuli, communications strategist for Embrace, a social movement for mothers, said the policy was a move in the right direction but “it still shortchanges mothers”.
She said that the judgment, issued last month, placed responsibility for leave with individuals rather than “building a caring system”. The unemployed and those working in insecure employment were left out, she said.
“Mothers want to be excited but they are concerned about the practical implications,” she said.
Thandile Ndoda, 30, lives in Cape Town and is expecting a baby with her husband, Kwanda, 34, later this year. Kwanda was happy about the “progressive” move, and would take more leave to support Thandile. But both agreed a mother should not have to give up her leave.
“I think fathers should be allowed to be at home more but I don’t agree with sacrificing the mother’s maternity leave,” said Thandile.
Kwanda added: “I think the new generation of men is taking on a more liberal stance. They want to be a core part of their children’s lives.”
They, along with Van den Berg and Mbuli, want to see an extra portion of non-transferable “use it or lose it” leave for both parents, that does not cut into the shared leave period, as in Spain and Sweden.
“The journey is far from over,” said Van den Berg, “but this judgment represents a promising step toward a more equitable and balanced caregiving landscape in South Africa.”