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South Africa

Family Life In Asian Communities

Between 1860 and 1911, a total of 152,184 Indians (Hindus and Muslims) came to South Africa from various parts of India to work as laborers on sugar plantations in the Durban area. They formed a diverse group in terms of language and culture, and their ranks included twice as many men as women. Although in their native lands some of these people would not have interacted because they belonged to different castes, common work and problems (e.g., poor working conditions and health care) resulted in the demise of the caste system and other traditional practices. Once their working contracts had expired, some continued their involvement in farming, while others moved to towns and cities and began their own businesses, some of which are still thriving as family businesses. Indian families live all over South Africa (2.6% of the population), with the greatest concentration in Natal ( Jithoo 1996).

The joint family was originally the norm for Indian families. However, nuclear families are increasing as a result of modernization. Poverty and unemployment affected and still affect many families, making it hard for parents to pass down traditional values in the nuclear family within the context of greater freedom of thought and new opportunities (Steyn 1993).

Although many joint families exist today (with the father or senior brother as undisputed head), with different generations living together (with different interests and power structures), there has been a transition to families that are more nuclear, especially in the cities. Unlike typical Western nuclear families, traditional values and obligations bind an Indian nuclear family, and its members maintain good contact with the extended family. Nevertheless, there has been a loss of the traditional understanding that promotes cohesion, solidarity, and loyalty in the joint family. The decrease in the incidence of joint families can be ascribed to an increase in kinds of housing, the building of roads, more professional work opportunities as a result of better educational opportunities, and the influence of Western values, with their emphasis on individuality. One of the greatest challenges for Indian families is to adapt to a changing sociocultural environment. The great distances between children, parents, and grandparents as a result of nuclear family life patterns has resulted in a decline in the traditional values and associated support networks. This places greater demands on family members to adapt as a result of less continuity and more uncertainty. Exposure to the media, a more integrated educational system, and the dominant influence of Western culture have all contributed to a culture of family transition for Indians in South Africa. Nevertheless, although structural changes have occurred in Indian families, many remain conservative, and many traditional values and morals have been maintained ( Jithoo 1996).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsSouth Africa - Family Life In Black Communities, Family Life In Asian Communities, Family Life In Colored Families