Today’s economic climate demands that both men and women work so many black women leave their hometowns in search of better prospects in the city, says the writer. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
The damaged family structure in African societies is a result of lack of land. The 1913 Native Land Act not only caused enormous suffering and poverty, but it also eroded family values. It directly gave birth to the migrant labour system which saw a geographic disruption in African families. 

The first secretary general and founder member of the South African Native National Congress, which became the ANC, wrote: “As a result of the passing of the Native Land Act groups of natives are seen in the different provinces seeking for new land. They have crossed over from the Free State into Natal into the Transvaal and from the Transvaal into British Bechuanaland” (Native Life in South Africa, by Sol Plaatjie).

The migrant labour system resulted in fatherless homes as they were in the city working in low-paying jobs, returning home once a year. The architects of apartheid made sure taverns were accessible to these workers, which resulted in them spending their money as a way of de-stressing because of the frustrating and appalling conditions they worked in.

Fast-forward 100 years - since the implementation of the Land Act in 2013, the SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) revealed that only 33% of children in South Africa live with both parents.

Today’s economic climate demands that both men and women work so many black women leave their home towns in search of better prospects in the city. They find themselves raising their children alone, which contradicts the African saying “it takes a village to raise a child”. In many cases these women receive no help from their baby’s father. They are forced to take multiple low-paying jobs just to stay afloat, and miss out on the crucial time to form a bond with their baby.

With the pressure of motherhood and work there has been a significant rise in post-natal depression. Studies have shown that babies of mothers with post-natal depression may be significantly negatively affected because of the quality of the parent-child relationship.

The design of African culture and way of living was very scientific even though it was never documented. A new mother used to stay with her mother, aunt and grandmother to help her take care of the new baby and share the responsibility of raising the child. With a lack of land, which has always been the asset central to the lives and well-being of African people, families are scattered and find themselves having to cope alone.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of human needs described love and a sense of belonging as one of the basic needs. He stated that after food and shelter the next most important need was a sense of belonging.

The African culture has prided itself on the values of ubuntu. We have lagged behind in civilisation because African people have always chosen to move together as people with one vision, over pace. The legacy of the Land Act, together with apartheid, is a damaged African family structure. Family is the basic unit in society.

Societies are the extension of families. To correct social ills in society one would have to correct social ills in families. A damaged family structure leaves millions of children to grow up with no sense of belonging. Now they are parents, but since they lacked role models, they themselves do not understand their role in a family.

Anywhere in the world, poverty-stricken areas are mostly likely to have fatherless homes. South Africa is no exception. Research has shown that children who grow up with an absent parent are most likely to develop low self-esteem and poor self-image, making it harder for a black to perform at school and later compete in the job market as well our white counterparts.

Poverty has given birth to a lot of socio-economic challenges that affect us all, black and white. The most heightened now is crime. We cannot fight poverty without addressing the land issue because the two cannot be separated. With the land we want to build homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, farms and factories. For that we need a vibrant and dynamic society, and that is not one without challenges, but one in which people have the will to face them. Dynamic challenges are an extension of dynamic family.

Give the people the land back and that will restore the dignity of heads of families in homes so we may restore family values of African people and eradicate poverty.

The founding father of our democracy, Nelson Mandela, said, “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life”.

* Yolanda Mhlungu is director at Defined Images, a printing and branding company. She’s a blogger at Mbokodo Behold.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Star