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31 July 2012

The shape of families in Mpumalanga

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

n overview of families in South Africa reveals significant changes over the years, including a transformation of the family structure and family relations. Unlike in the past, the presence of nuclear families and intimate couples has emerged as the primary family unit among those of higher socio-economic status, while multigenerational and extended families are more common among people of lower socio-economic levels.

A Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) study on families in Mpumalanga, commissioned by the Mpumalanga Department of Social Development, shows that the impact of migration out of the province has led to a reduced number of people of working age in family structures. This raises concerns about the impact of out-migration on households, specifically in relation to the welfare of the elderly and children dependent on those of working age.

Dr Monde Makiwane, principal investigator of the study, said the purpose of the study was to describe the situation of the families in the Mpumalanga province and determine the socio-economic welfare of different groups, including children, the elderly, men, women and youth.

The research team analysed data from the 2002 and 2009 Statistics South Africa’s General Household Surveys and conducted nine focus-group discussions across all age groups and across low, middle and high income groups in Mpumalanga Province. These discussions contributed to the data collection on the perspectives of various community groups, categorised according to age and place of residence (rural and urban). The study included three municipal areas, namely the Nhlazeni district (Lupisi and Kabokweni), Nkangala district (Verena and Kwamhlanga), and Gert Sibande (Ermelo and Nyibe).

  1. A low rate of stable sexual unions: The low number of children who grow up in these unions is mainly a result of exceptionally low marriage rates in South Africa. In 2009 in this province, 22.1% of people above 15 years of age were legally married and 11.6% were living together as husband and wife. Marriage among the other race groups was much higher, with rates of 45.9%, 72% and 85.5% among coloureds, whites, and Indians, respectively.
  2. Relatively few children live with their biological fathers: This is a result of children being born outside stable sexual relations and, in many cases, living with their mothers. Other factors are related to the high mortality and mobility among males, which is related to the structure of the South African economy. In the year 2009, 60.4% of black African children in Mpumalanga between the ages 0 – 9 years were not living with their fathers.
  3. A relatively higher proportion of children live in ‘tribal authority’ areas, compared to the rest of South Africa: This is a result of a slightly higher fertility rate in rural areas , and more importantly, the great number of young people who move to the cities, leaving their children behind in rural areas. In 2009, 53.1% of children in Mpumalanga lived with one of their parents, 9.8 % with the spouses of heads of households, and 14.9% with grandparents.
  4. The number of households is increasing faster than that of the population with household sizes becoming smaller: For instance, the number of households increased from 783 871 in 2002 to 977 918 in 2009. 
  5. In most families, women shoulder a disproportionally high family burden: They bear the greater burden of care giving roles. Women are also more likely than men to send regular remittances home to ageing parents when they are working away from their families.
  6. Stressors within families: Most households in the studied communities were described as under stress because of illness among adults that usually leads to death (mainly of parents of under-age children); teenage pregnancy which leads to many girls dropping out of school; substance abuse (among adults – usually men), as well as families that are widely dispersed due to migration, with most extended families only meeting during funerals. 
  7. Financial survival in families: Social grants play a large part in the survival of many families in Mpumalanga. Neighbours and church networks come to the assist families during times of need. Stokvels, burial societies and building societies are forms of savings clubs that function as coping mechanisms only for those who are gainfully employed or are recipients of one form of state grant or another. Therefore, social capital functions to exclude, on the one hand, and build capital on the other hand for those already employed or in receipt of grants. Fundamentally, it reproduces differences between those who are vulnerable and those who are extremely vulnerable.
  8. Critical tension has developed between observing religious, cultural and traditional practices and upholding human rights: Parents generally blame the rights-based post-apartheid society, the structure of our social assistance programme and communication technology for their failure to communicate effectively with their children.

The study recommends the following:

  • Involving men in initiatives revolving around care and financial support.
  • Encourage better solidarity between generations. Such campaigns should encourage dialogue between members of different generations belonging to all gender groups; the main emphasis should be to encourage men to communicate with their children.
  • Major campaigns to encourage more stable sexual unions. In particular, there should be measures to campaign to encourage marriages and to reduce childbearing outside stable sexual unions.
  • Collaborate with schools to deliver alcohol use and teenage pregnancy prevention programmes for adolescents (both boys and girls) using peers
  • New measures to assist families that fall within the cracks of the existing social assistance system.

For interviews or further information, please contact: 

Dr Monde Makiwane
Chief research specialist
Human and Social Development, HSRC
Tel: +27 (0)12 302 2239
Cell phone: 072 424 8603