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South Africa

Family Life In Colored Families

The colored people in South Africa (8.9% of the population) stem from slaves, Asians, Europeans, Khoi, and Africans. Consequently, conspicuous differences exist within the colored group with regard to religion, language, and socioeconomic status (SES). Two distinct groups can be differentiated in terms of SES: the high class with stable family relationships as well as social and economic security, Obedience and respect for parents play key roles in maintaining stable family life and values in South-African families. DAVID TURNLEY/CORBIS and the low socioeconomic class that, as a result of forced moves, inadequate education, and the like, lived in poverty for generations. The low SES group usually lives in precarious conditions that are characterized by social problems, such as street violence, unemployment, overcrowding, many out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and a poverty-stricken lifestyle. These factors usually contribute to feelings of despair and limited expectations for the future (Rabie 1996).

How the colored family originated differs substantially from that of the Indian family. Colored families and African-American families, however, have in common many factors that shaped them. These promoted a high out-of-wedlock birth rate as well as an unstable family life. Today there are large differences in social class within the colored population. The nuclear family is common in the high-income groups, whereas single-parent families, as part of an extended family with a dominant woman, are common in low-income groups. Living together and desertion are also common in low-income groups (Steyn 1993).

The following are some of the most predominant characteristics and contributing factors to the socioeconomic circumstances of many colored households (Rabie 1996). First, poverty entails that housing with associated services is lacking or inadequate. Units are small, and children are often left alone at home unsupervised. In high-density areas, two or more nuclear families live together, which strains normal family relationships and places excessively high demands on families with inadequate resources. These circumstances are thus largely responsible for the prevalence of well-organized gang syndicates in many neighborhoods. Gang activities are common (especially in the Western Cape, where large concentrations of colored people live) and even schoolchildren are recruited to join these complex competing power structures that have a large influence on many households. Gang membership can last until late adolescence and even early adulthood. A second factor is that approximately 43 percent of births take place outside marriage. This has implications for stable supportive relationships.

Supportive networks in poorer communities are mostly built around gender roles (Rabie 1996). Adolescents spend a lot of time with peers of the same gender. In marriages where the relationship between the husband and wife is not one of attachment, the husband spends almost all of his time with his friends, while the wife directs her affection to their children and family. In addition to the economical contributions that these women make to the households and wider network in many cases, these women also hold the families and networks together. They do so on a daily basis, for example, by lending to others or borrowing from others what is needed (e.g., cash, household ingredients) and providing emotional support when necessary.

A substantial proportion of nuclear families have adopted Western lifestyles. In many of these families both parents work, but in other cases, there is a single breadwinner while the wife (in most cases) looks after the family and household.

Additional topics

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