• The apartheid government’s policies aimed to disintegrate black families, but post-1994, the democratic government introduced progressive laws, including the White Paper on Families, to strengthen family units and protect children.
  • South Africa’s family dynamics are diverse, encompassing child-headed, women-headed, single father-headed, and polygamous families. The government has provided support through social assistance programmes and legislation to aid these families, especially those affected by HIV/AIDS and economic challenges.
  • Climate change poses new threats to family stability, particularly impacting vulnerable groups like women and children. The Minister of Social Development, Ms. Lindiwe Zulu, will address these issues and the importance of family cohesion at an upcoming event, highlighting the need for continued support and adaptation to new challenges.

The apartheid government employed a deliberate strategy to disintegrate families, particularly black families, through various laws. These included migrant labour laws and spatial laws that separated families by making heads of households work in cities, leaving their families in rural areas. The Immorality Act also prohibited black and white people from having sexual relationships.

When the democratic government came into power in 1994, one of its biggest responsibilities was to strengthen South African families. Through its progressive Constitution, various laws were promulgated. One such piece of legislation was the White Paper on Families, which aimed to strengthen the capacity of families and communities to care for and protect children. This white paper focused on fostering well-functioning families that are loving, peaceful, safe, stable, and economically self-sustaining. It advocated for supporting families to provide physical, emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual, and intellectual support to their members.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic left many children orphaned and vulnerable, forcing many grandparents to become second-time parents and many children to become heads of households. The democratic government recognised child-headed households to prevent secondary trauma, and children requested not to be separated through institutionalisation or by families willing to care for only one child. The government strengthened its services to keep children within families, supporting foster care and adoptive families through legislation like the Social Assistance Act, which financially aids foster care families and families that cannot fully support their children. The social assistance programme is one of the government’s largest, providing cash transfers to children from poor families.

As South Africa’s democracy matured, the country passed the Same-Sex Marriage Act in 2006, allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt, foster, or use surrogacy. Recently, the Constitutional Court confirmed the constitutional validity of Section 294 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, which only permits commissioning parents to engage in surrogacy arrangements if they can provide a genetic link to their future offspring. This provision excludes individuals who cannot provide genetic material due to infertility from engaging in surrogacy when adoption is not an available alternative. Section 294 states that no surrogate motherhood agreement is valid unless the conception of the child uses the gametes of at least one commissioning parent or, in the case of a single person, that person’s gamete. This ensures a genetic link between at least one commissioning parent and the child conceived via surrogacy.

South Africa is a country with diverse family structures, including child-headed, women-headed, single father-headed, polygamous, and older person-headed families. These families now face new challenges like climate change. Many families in various provinces, including KwaZulu-Natal, were recently affected and displaced by climate change, impacting women and children negatively.

Focusing on keeping families together during climate and demographic changes to build stronger families, the Minister of Social Development, Ms Lindiwe Zulu, will reflect on the significance of families, their role, diversity, and the impact of climate change on families on Friday, May 24. The families engagement will be held under the International Day of Families theme: “Families and Climate Change: International Year of the Family + 30.” This theme emphasises the role of families in building social cohesion through social and behavioural change programmes.


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