Academic journal article Journal of Social History

The Illegitimate and the Illegal in a South African City: The Effects of Apartheid on Births out of Wedlock

Academic journal article Journal of Social History

The Illegitimate and the Illegal in a South African City: The Effects of Apartheid on Births out of Wedlock

Article excerpt

Expectations are running high in South Africa that, with the end of apartheid, the way is now open for a new society to emerge in which, inter alia, current serious dislocations in family life will disappear. One consequence of these dislocations is an extremely high illegitimacy rate, resulting in a very large proportion of the nation's children growing up in female-headed households with little financial support and, even now, some stigma. Detailed examination of illegitimacy patterns over the past half-century demonstrates that family behaviours among all groups in South Africa have been singularly vulnerable to legal regulation, producing very different family patterns at different times in different sections of the population. Whether the removal of descriminatory legislation will have the desired effect must therefore be considered in the light of the likely persistence or otherwise of the changes brought about, and of what earlier patterns preceded them. The most extreme attempts at social engineering have been made on those groups other than White, and it is on those that we concentrate in this paper.

Cape Town and Its People

Our data come from a larger research project(1) and relate to Cape Town, today one of the three largest cities in South Africa and its legislative capital. To understand the composition of the population, a swift overview of the city's history is necessary.

Cape Town originated from a decision of the Dutch East India Company to create a settlement at the tip of Africa to service its ships en route for the East Indies. The Dutch settlers, who arrived in 1652, found the indigenous hunter-gatherers and pastoralists, the Khoisan, were willing to trade in cattle but, in the early period at least, were not generally ready to be employed as labourers. Initially all colonists were employees (or the families of employees) of the Dutch East India Company, but from 1655 some ex-officials were granted permission to remain at the Cape to farm. Slaves - many Muslim - were therefore imported from the East Indies and Madagascar, and a few from Africa. Gradually the colonial population increased. By 1713 it numbered 3,679 (1,585 settlers - not counting company employees - and 1,794 slaves); by that date the slave population therefore exceeded that of the colonists. The Khoisan were not included in these figures, but the figures do include the class of Free Blacks that developed as slaves were freed, opponents to the Dutch in the Indies were exiled to the Cape, and the intermixture of the peoples at the Cape increased.

From 1795 the Cape came under British control, apart from a brief period of rule by the Batavian Republic from 1803-1806. As a crucial staging post for the defence of the sea route to India, it received increasingly heavy traffic. The ending of the oceanic slave trade in 1807 resulted in further admixtures to the population, as many slaves, mostly from Mozambique and Madagascar, were brought to the port from seized ships and set free as apprentices there. In 1834 the British emancipated the slaves at the Cape, although all were immediately compulsorily indentured to their masters until 1838 and only then were free to move elsewhere. During the course of British rule over the following century, Indian and Chinese indentured labour was imported into South Africa, and although the bulk of both groups was located elsewhere in the country, a small community of mainly Muslim Indians developed in Cape Town as a result of this importation, adding to the already very varied population. In addition, by 1891 there was a small population of Africans from the interior living in Cape Town, which by 1900 numbered some 10,000 living in and around the city.(2) However, when a plague epidemic broke out in 1901, panic about slum living conditions led to almost all those living within the municipal limits being moved to accommodation at Ndabeni beyond the boundaries of the city, and therefore their disappearance from Cape Town's statistics until 1925, when Ndabeni's reincorporation within expanding city limits resulted in their statistical reappearance. …

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