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The Legacy of Apartheid haunts the functioning of SA families

11 January 2013, 14:22

In the dawn of South Africa’s celebrated constitutional democracy; promoting equality, accountability and accessibility to services. Inequality remains a reality for many people, the constant increasing gap between the rich and poor, unemployment, crime and corruption puts families in deprivation and disparity. This essay will discuss the impact of Apartheid in shaping contemporary families by taking into account racial and ethnic patterns in South Africa.

It is imperative to take into consideration the impact of Apartheid in South Africa; through the Group Areas Acts, black people (Africans, Indians, Chinese and Coloured) were denied equal rights compared to white people. Access to opportunities and participation is society was largely judged and determined by your race more than anything else. The Group Areas Acts was aimed at segregating and imposing indirect rule of black people in Bantustans or Townships. They were infringed of their basic rights to adequate healthcare, education and opinion in the running of South Africa.  Integrated black communities were divided into ethnic clusters under the Group Areas Act, Zulu’s and Xhosa’s were independent of each other geographically, this caused the detachment of family ties resulting to conflicting cultural practices as people interchange (Venter and Landsberg, 2006: 5).

Families remained crucial to the advancement of communities, through shared aspiration especially though the concept of ‘Ubuntu’ which many black communities subscribed to; made it possible for black communities of diverse backgrounds to unite through values of sharing, caring, compassion and humanity. Family can be described as the interactions; relationships and togetherness of people either by genetics or developed communal association. It is evident that racial and ethnic divisions during the Apartheid era especially the peak of 1980 – 1994, through mass protest, mobilization and chaos; people were prisoned, injured and some died. The consequence of such occurrence was the huge amount of orphans, the rising levels of inequality, as people lose jobs due to sanctions from the international community to mention a few magnitudes. South African families were essentially divided; new patterns and practices were formed (Venter and Landsberg, 2006: 8).

The legacy of Apartheid still haunts the functioning of South African families. Due to the vast racial, gender and class inequalities, the core functions of a family are in jeopardy. Firstly, socialization remains a vital aspect in which parents have the responsibility to teach and instill positive values to their children as tomorrow’s workforce. However, many South Africans live under poverty circumstance thus parents are more focused on gaining employment, survival and wellbeing instead of mentoring their children to become active citizens. Black people were taught under the Bantu Education system which deprived them of quality education, they were not equipped with the necessary skills to become professions (Ramphele, 1993: 30).

Hence, families were constrained of their capacity to provide economic and emotional security, it became the collective role of the community to educate children through storytelling, and church gatherings as parents did not individually have the knowledge as how to transfer information. Families play an important role in advancing and fulfilling the needs of society (Morgan, 2011: 10). It is unfortunate that the legacy of Apartheid still troubles the progression of black South African families, their cultural norms and values in the household persist to be limited by the lack of education and access to finances.

Moreover, contemporary families are increasingly becoming westernized, especially those in urban areas. Generally, families in rural areas are still connected to the traditional family norms such as communal activities, sharing, support and protection although they are the most exposed to inequalities and social constraints. The newly established government after 1994 focused its social mandates more on developing urban areas rather than uplifting marginalized people in isolated rural areas (Heywood, 2007: 34). It is for this reason that families in rural areas of South Africa are still remote and vulnerable to poverty, inequality and underdevelopment. South Africa’s social diversity is challenged by the different normative attitudes towards sexuality and family customs. For example, it is morally acceptable in the Zulu culture for a man to marry more than one wife; extended families are seen as beneficial to the growth and sustaining of the family clan.

Nonetheless, South Africa’s increased political freedom and equality in its dawn of democracy has had an enormous influence on the way in which families perceive ideas and theories about family. Before 1994, families in South Africa were shaped by political ideology, as black people fighting for liberation and white people enjoying the benefits of bias laws. Family identities were formed by race, class and ethnicity, consequently the reality of nationalism did not exist during Apartheid (Ramphele, 1993: 23). Families that originate from deprived circumstances of Apartheid are the most affected by inequality and social disparity. It is without a doubt that the legacy of Apartheid still haunts the functioning of South African families.

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