About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Social Disintegration in the Black Community - Implications for Transformation by Mamphela Ramphele

Dr Mamphela Ramphele is Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

Dr Ramphele is a medical doctor, and has a PhD in anthropology.

She is co-author, with Francis Wilson, of the book "Uprooting Poverty" and, with Barney Pityana, Malusi Mpumlwana and Lindy Wilson, of the book on Steve Biko and Black Consciousness in South Africa entitled "Bounds of Possibility".

This paper was delivered at a Joint Enrichment Project workshop on marginalised youth in June 1991. Monitor is grateful to Ms Shiela Sisulu and JEP for permission to print this paper.

'Deprived of their natural guides, children of migrants (and all other poor blacks) grow through an insecure, uncertain childhood to an adult life whose sole preoccupation may be to escape the system. There must be a harvest of aggression, with the weeds of violence growing rank within it. The dreadful society is the community of careless, of those who, treated like boys behave like boys; of those who, having no responsibilities laid upon them owe none to any man. In that chill climate will there be any place for trust? Any hope for human intercourse at all?" (Anthony Barker, 1970). (1)


Increasing concern is being expressed about the problem of "the alienated youth" or "the lost generation" or "marginalised youth". The concern is mostly based on the recognition of the potential of this sector of the South African population to destabilise the country, regardless of the nature of the political settlement achieved. A major limitation of this concern is its failure to locate the problem of the alienated youth in a wider analytical framework as a symptom of a deeper malaise - the rapid downward spiral towards total disintegration of the fabric of the black community.


Communities undergoing social disintegration have been observed to display some of the following behavioural patterns to a greater or lesser extent:

Ø. Family breakdowns with rising divorce, separation, single parenthood and high teenage pregnancy rates.

Ø. Low job participation with both high unemployment and unemployable rates.

Ø. High alcohol and drug abuse.

Ø. Low performance in all spheres of life including school and skills training.

Ø. High crime rates and endemic violence at all levels of social interaction: family, inter-personal, neighbourhoods and wider community.

Ø. Despair and acceptance of the victim image.

Ø. Flight of skills and positive role models from the townships into higher income areas.

A similar phenomenon observed amongst blacks in the United States has been characterised by social scientists as the emergence of an underclass. Such characterisation presupposes the presence of dominant mainstream classes which can be used as reference points. There is strong empirical evidence of an underclass in the USA which under-performs in all respects in comparison with the American mainstream.

Other examples of this phenomenon are to be found in Ireland, and the United Kingdom amongst white working class people. India also has its own pockets of social disintegration. They seem to be communities bereft of any positive motivation to engage in creative strategies to deal with the challenges of life. The first Carnegie Report on Poverty in South Africa indicated that a large proportion of poor whites in the thirties also exhibited similar tendencies.

The phenomenon unfolding in South Africa has key features which distinguish it from its USA counterpart. Firstly, the community affected comprises the majority of South Africans, it therefore cannot be dismissed as functioning outside the mainstream. On the contrary, it threatens to become the mainstream. The term underclass would thus be inappropriate.

Secondly, it would be wrong to describe the South African social disintegration phenomenon as only a black problem.

Although one has to acknowledge it as predominantly affecting blacks some of the symptoms characteristic of this phenomenon are also in evidence in the wider South African society. For example, violence perpetrated in the name of the state (CCB) and by white rightwing groups shows signs of a warped society. So too the frightening family massacres reported over the last few years. Widespread corruption within government structures, particularly in those designed to legitimate separate development, has created a crisis of legitimacy of all authority structures in South Africa and has bred a culture of high-class crime within the public sector. The value system of the total South African community increasingly reflects social pathology. It is thus not a racial phenomenon.

It is also true that it is not a purely economic problem. Not all poor people end up in circumstances of social disintegration. For example, poor people in Zimbabwe and Mozambique have until the recent increase in destructive actions by Renamo, supported by the South African government, functioned as coherent communities in spite of their plight. Key factors accounting for different responses seem to be the level and pace of urbanisation, the level of perceived deprivation and a sense of entitlement by those perceiving themselves to be exploited. The large disparities between the haves and have-nots in South Africa provide added impetus to the emergence of a culture of entitlement. Social disintegration is a behavioural problem which has the potential of taking over whole communities.

In an attempt to come to grips with this phenomenon a number of fundamental questions need to be posed. What are the causes of social disintegration in South Africa? Why has it taken so long for this phenomenon to surface given the extent and widespread nature of deliberate impoverishment of the black majority by the white minority? What accounts for the continued success of some individuals and groups within the most affected communities? The key to these questions lies in human resilience and the elaboration of coping strategies for survival.


The perceived social disintegration in the black community can be traced to a number of causes: historical, major developments in the body politic of South Africa in the recent past, and the impact of liberalisation initiated by the State President's speech on the second of February 1990.


Historical causes can be divided into three main categories: demographic, economic and human developmental. Each one will be discussed in turn.

Demographic Influences

The conquest of blacks by whites has left deep scars in the black community. The subordination of a majority by a minority required repressive measures to enforce their alienation from the land of their birth and a right to access to land. The Land Acts of 1913 and 1936 together with the Group Areas Act of 1950 were used as instruments of dispossession and impoverishment of blacks.

The impact of conquest has been to restrict urbanisation of Africans and artificially distribute their numbers in such a manner that led to overcrowding of areas set aside for them. The following diagrams derived from an Urban Foundation study indicates population movements prior to the abolition of influx control in 1986.

Successive South African governments utilised the pass laws, influx regulation and coloured labour preference policy to control the movements of Africans and to prevent them from participation in the sharing of urban resources. In addition there was a deliberate policy of under-provision of social services in African townships to discourage family settlement. Housing backlogs, inadequate school facilities, neglect of infrastructural development such as roads, electrification and general public space management, were all designed to make townships unattractive to potential settlers. The net result is total collapse of this inadequate base once the floodgates were opened by the Abolition of Influx Regulations Act of 1986.

Forced removals detailed in the book, Surplus People, as well as Cosmas Desmond's The Discarded People, wreaked havoc on families, communities and whole areas (Platzky & Walker, 1985; Desmond, 1971).(2) Homelands became the dumping ground of unwanted African people, as indicated in Diagram 2.

The divide and rule strategy, perfected by the British colonial rulers, was utilised to great effect to emphasise ethnic diversity amongst Africans and to generate political conflict amongst them centred on competition for scarce resources. Differential resource allocation to bantustan areas became a powerful tool to enforce desirable behaviour by the respective leaders, and to create animosity between communities which had been living together in relative peace for decades. For example, in the early 1980s in the Tzaneen area, Shangaans were pitted against Sotho over Shilubane Hospital which was taken away from missionary control and handed over to the Gazankulu homeland, which catered for Shangaans. It is thus not surprising that the current violence in South Africa has strong ethnic undertones.

Since 1986 the flow from these dumping grounds has put additional pressure on urban resources. Squatter areas all over South Africa are part of the legacy of misguided social engineering. Diagram 3 shows the post-1986 projected movement and redistribution of the African population.

We are also reaping the bitter fruits of the Group Areas Act, which wreaked havoc by "breaking the spider's web" through the systematic destruction of communities on the apartheid altar. Don Pinnock described this process with respect to District Six removals as: "Like a man with a stick breaking spider webs in a forest. The spider may survive the fall, but he can't survive without his web. When he comes to build it again he finds the anchors gone, the people are all over, and the fabric of generations lost."(3)

With the opening up of political space and opportunities outside the disintegrating townships, more and more blacks with the requisite resources are fleeing from these townships and settling in previously exclusive white areas. They are the professionals and people with skills who have hitherto provided positive role models for young people in these townships. Their flight deprives the townships of valuable regenerative resources and leads to a concentration of a deviant and crime-ridden sub-culture, which then takes over whole communities.

Economic Influences

Maldistribution of wealth and income is a major feature of South African social relations and has been adequately documented by Wilson and Ramphele, 1989(4) (see also Economic section in this volume). The perception by blacks that they have been deliberately impoverished by successive South African governments is a matter of serious import in the existing conflict.

High unemployment is affecting mainly those who have been disadvantaged and denied education, training and other essential resources for successful economic performance. It is those who have been kept out of the cities and the poorly educated who are hardest hit. They are therefore also very angry and resentful of those seeming to succeed.

The migrant labour system is the single most iniquitous system that could be visited on a people. Its reckless trading on equity - the shamless exploitation of black human capital - further eroded morale in the black community and has finally led to bankruptcy with serious consequences for the whole South African society. The immersion of black workers in filth in the migrant labour compounds and the disruption of family life are key elements of this system.

Is it any wonder then that migrant hostel dwellers on the Reef were reported on SATV talking with pleasure about their next kill in the violence between themselves and township dwellers? The level of dehumanisation by this system is frightening.

Human Developmental Influences

Deliberate anti-education through Bantu Education to produce nothing more than hewers of wood and drawers of water out of Africans has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams Dr H.F. Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, could have had.

The process has now gone the full cycle with products of this system of education constituting the majority of the teaching core with devastating consequences for the quality of black school leavers. Bantu Education has also been a source of political conflict leading to widespread school disruptions.

Under-development of potential amongst Africans in particular, has been an important part of the strategy for domination of the majority by a minority. Those Africans who miraculously survived Bantu Education, were met at best by an indifferent job market, or at worst (this constituted a significant proportion), by a hostile one which sought to keep them in their place.

The private sector and other institutions, such as universities, share the blame for this. The Sullivan Code, adopted by some multinational corporations, was used by some businesses to employ token blacks, without any attempt to develop their full potential. The frustration bred by such hypocrisy further lowered the self-esteem of those affected.

The legacy of job reservation has particularly serious implications for Africans in the current tight job market. Those whites who often boasted that "my vel is my graad" (my skin is my degree) have benefited at the expense of blacks who may have been better qualified: income, pensions, housing subsidies and other benefits are all tied to the job one holds. The declining fortunes of the mining industry are bringing the differentials, spawned by job reservation and the collusion of the mining industry in its enforcement, into sharp relief. Conflict is predictable.


The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 marked the end of an era in black politics in which young people were beholden to adult leadership. Black people, including political activists, were paralysed by fear of the repressive Nationalist government. Children lost respect for their frightened parents who offered them no protection against police harassment and other problems of poverty.

The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) addressed itself to this fear and the loss of self-respect blacks had come to accept as inevitable. It inspired blacks to seize the initiative of defining themselves and their struggle, taking responsibility for their own and their country's destiny, and developing self-reliance and pride in their past and their worth as full citizens of South Africa.

The impact of the BCM was felt mostly amongst the youth and professional sectors of the black population. The Soweto Uprising of June 1976 was a direct outcome of the defiance bred by the process of conscientisation by BCM, and the willingness by Soweto school pupils to take the risk of challenging the arrogance of Bantu Education and its prescription of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction for them.

Once children were thrust "into the frontline", it became difficult to sustain traditional social relations between adults and children with serious implications for family life. Children became used to power and control, and refused to yield to the authority of adults whom they despised: their parents and teachers. Conflict became inevitable.

Politics of "making South Africa ungovernable" which characterised the post-1983 era, have also contributed to the current conflict and social disintegration. Mass mobilisation, consumer boycotts, school boycotts with the slogan "Freedom now and Education Tomorrow", people's courts and the setting up of alternative structures, all had embedded in them a strong element of coercion and intimidation of those unwilling to participate. It is also important to note that most of the responsibility for enforcing these campaigns rested on the youth. Young people thus assumed enormous powers, including the power to kill. Conflict between young and old was thus heightened.

There were also positive outcomes of this era. The emergence of a strong civic movement has been an essential part of the pressure for change. The launching of the United Democratic Front and the increasing strength of the trade union movement, also ushered in an era of greater participation by ordinary people in decision-making processes at a local level.

The Total Onslaught and Total Strategy which characterised P.W. Botha's presidency, also legitimated and popularised the use of violence against one's political opponents. The Civil Co-operation Bureau is but a small, though dangerous, part of a massive state-directed campaign of terror against government opponents. Both the hunters and the hunted were brutalised by this reign of terror.

Family murders affecting predominantly Afrikaans-speaking white South Africans made their appearance around 1986 like an epidemic. Male heads of households were the murderers of their families crowning the sad saga with their own suicide. Something had gone terribly wrong with the fabric of society.

The reform era of 1986 failed to take off. It was too little too late. The refusal of P.W. Botha to cross the Rubicon killed it off.

Political competition amongst blacks intensified in the eighties with vigilantes, warlords, comrades and com-tsotsis all fighting for control of the political terrain. Vigilantes were aided and abetted by the security forces as the KTC squatter camp case of 1986 demonstrated. Tensions between the youth and adults were exploited to the full and so-called fathers were encouraged to rise against the intimidation politics of the comrades. Com-tsotsis are a phenomenon arising out of the legitimation of criminal activities in the name of the struggle, such as the high-jacking of private cars, looting of shops etc., within black communities, which feeds off political conflict.

Warlords are a phenomenon of the Natal region where chiefs, headmen and squatter leaders loyal to Inkatha have assumed the role of waging war against the comrades. Thousands of lives and enormous property have been lost in the process. Whole communities in rural and peri-urban Natal areas have been destabilised.(5)

The second of February 1990 speech by F.W. de Klerk marked the end of an era and the opening up of political space, but economic and social space remain constrained.


Escalating political conflict places increasing strain on social relationships: parent/child, different generations, different political groups, different interest groups. The violent nature of this conflict further entrenches violence as a means of settling disputes. There is an ongoing power struggle in the black community as the stakes for political control increase.

Some of the violence is directed at institutions for a variety of reasons. Firstly, local government structures and officials came under heavy attack in the mid-eighties, because they were seen as illegitimate and having failed to address the real needs of township residents. Secondly, local merchants were sometimes attacked because they were seen as exploiters of "the people" or had refused to contribute to "the struggle". Thirdly, the schools and teachers became targets of anger. The inadequacy of school facilities and the limitations of unqualified teachers, who were also found wanting in terms of commitment to "the struggle", were cited as reasons for such attacks.

"The family" as a concept also came under severe strain. Weakened by poverty, overcrowding, migrant labour and a general sense of worthlessness experienced by some adults, the family is not adequately poised to face the challenges of coping with politicised and rebellious youths. The result is intensification of tensions between the generations and violence within families. The attack on illegitimate authority structures at home, school and local communities was not accompanied by the creation of alternative acceptable models of authority. There was thus a void left in the lives of young people.

Rightwing violence is also a feature of the transitional phase we are in. This form of violence is born out of fear of the unknown and uncertainty about what the future holds for whites in a situation where they no longer have total control of the government. There is also anger at the loss of privileges which have come to be viewed as rights: the right to exclude others from sharing the resources of the country, the right to treat others as non-beings, and the right to state patronage, etc.

Violence is damaging the very sources of current and potential strength required for the transition. The coveted "Milan" of Charles I and Francis III, could very well become "Beirut".


Blacks have not been hapless victims of the historical forces outlined above, but have developed survival strategies. An examination of what such strategies are and what implications they have for the process of transformation is important.

The Economy of Affection involving solidarity action with extended family members, peers, homeboys, comrades, political and other groups.

This "economy of affection" has effectively subsidised the main economy through providing social welfare for the indigent, care for the aged, sick and orphaned. Enormous sacrifices are made by those income-earning members of these solidarity groups who have to cope with big dependency ratios. This leads to a denial and delegitimation of the importance of the individual. The development of the individual's full capacity and freedom of choice is compromised in favour of the survival of the group.

The use of tradition as a resource to maintain a semblance of self-respect in the face of the humiliation of conquest and daily exploitation.

Selective conservatism is employed by the dominant groups, namely older men, to maintain some level of order and social control. Tradition also legitimates the "economy of affection" as the "African way of life".

Shrinking to fit the constrained space one finds oneself in, physically, psychologically, politically, economically and intellectually is also at play.

A deliberate process of lowering one's expectations of the self and others is instituted and legitimated to protect oneself against failure and disappointment. Self-esteem and respect for human dignity of one's fellow community members is compromised because those treated like "boys" end up behaving like "boys".

Vacillation between resistance and acquiescence of individual actors and the group as a whole.

The perception of risks attached to resistance ensures acquiescence, but the humiliation of the resultant impotence leads to vacillation.

Maximisation of short-term gains at the expense of long-term prospects.

Ends and means become confused. Eg. crime as a means of survival may become a way of life, sale of alcohol as a survival strategy creates more problems of poverty and leads to an entry into the drug world.

Crime is a resource used to balance one's family and personal budget.

The sale of alcohol, dagga and the emergence of a "shebeen culture" have become entrenched, so too the pilfering of organisational resources, "bread", is part of a survival culture. In the climate of the nineties the justification rhetoric has changed, stealing is regarded as redistribution.

It is also worth noting that in a situation where normal behaviour has been criminalised, the law falls into disrepute and fails to have any moral or ethical hold on citizens. The criminalising of family life and the right to seek employment, which occurred under the pass laws, have diminished respect for laws amongst those disadvantaged by such policies. This lack of respect for the law is compounded by the lack of legitimacy of the minority government which enacted such laws.

Victim-image development and its use as a resource for survival within the family, in the local area, nationally and internationally.

Eg. "Victims of Apartheid Fund" of the EEC. This creates and exacerbates a culture of entitlement amongst those seeing themselves as victims.

The psychology of the victim image has been elaborated upon by Steele, an African American, who is concerned about the position of blacks in America (Steele, 1990)(6). He makes several points which are of relevance to our situation.

Firstly, blacks are social victims of racist policies which have deliberately impoverished them and diminished their human potential. They are thus entitled as a group to redress. Individual entitlements are however more problematic. How is one to balance the infinite demands that would be made on finite resources under such circumstances? How does one choose between the entitlement claims of one individual victim over another?

Individual entitlement also demoralises those on the receiving end. They begin to see society as the agent of change and not themselves. For example, black students are victims of a wantonly neglectful educational policy of the Nationalist government, but they have to individually apply themselves to their studies and utilise whatever support programmes are put at their disposal in order that they may succeed. It would be futile to plead victimisation and demand special treatment, unless matched by a determination by the individual to take responsibility for own success.

The international community has played an important role in bringing the South African government to the negotiating table, but in some cases some individuals and institutions have encouraged the victim role of black South Africans. An industry has emerged in some parts of the world, which depends on the perpetuation of the victim image of blacks for its survival. This international "South Africa industry" may reinforce the culture of entitlement which will create problems even for a future democratically elected government.

The above strategies have ensured the survival of the black community against many odds. Some people have even managed to move beyond survival and are living meaningful lives in spite of their abysmal social backgrounds. There are thus protective factors which enable certain people to survive and achieve. Such protective factors have not been properly documented, but include stable family circumstances where there are high expectations for all to achieve. Secondly, there is the presence of positive societal role models. Thirdly, a stable environment is also an important protective factor, hence the relative better performance of school children in well-developed rural areas compared to those in the townships. Finally, the presence of an interested adult acting as a mentor also acts to protect against social pathology.

But like all capital, the failure to service the resource base provided by survival strategies, has white-anted the very fabric of most black communities. Family coherence is threatened from all directions. Economic hardship and huge dependency ratios have forced both parents to choose between employment for survival and attending to their children's emotional and intellectual needs. The choice in favour of survival has further undermined the environment in which black children have to develop.

There has been "a theft of hope", as Monica Wilson once said of people in rural areas. Despair is widespread in both urban and rural areas. People are being compelled to utilise the least creative survival strategies such as crime (repossession or redistribution) and abuse of alcohol and drugs to dull the pain of humiliation and hopelessness.


The Economy of Affection has been found to bear the seeds of nepotism, corruption and high class crime in other similar circumstances in Africa and Asia. The burden of high dependency ratios accounts for these results. This undermines the emergence of public accountability.

Conformism and collective consciousness result from demands for solidarity action which is essential for survival under difficult conditions. The siege mentality which sometimes results in such circumstances stifles individuality and creativity by delegitimating self-criticism and differences of opinion.

Inferiority complex formation results from being degraded by one's fellow human beings in most walks of life. This leads to mediocrity, aggressive denial and intolerance of criticism. In the late 1960s the Black Consciousness Movement recognised inferiority complex formation of blacks as being one of the greatest constraints to them acting as active agents of history.

Criminality, however legitimated, runs the risk of becoming a way of life. Some shebeens are known to have graduated from the sale of alcohol to drugs and sex, with serious consequences.

Tradition can also become a stumbling block to progress because of its use as a resource by powerful groups to entrench their interests. This has particular relevance to the Aids threat we are facing. The use of tradition to legitimate sexism and irresponsible sexual behaviour by men has similar serious consequences.

Victim-image and its use as a resource to legitimate irresponsibility and the culture of entitlement pose a serious problem for the future. It may become difficult to wean people from the negative attitudes flowing from such a culture of entitlement.

There are also important constraints placed on victims to perform in a situation of widened political space. Firstly, the values and attitudes required for responsible action in a free society are precisely the ones not rewarded under oppressive conditions. For example, individual initiative and responsibility for one's behaviour are discouraged by the demands for solidarity action. So too, self-interested hard work, such as required for studying, conflicts with the desire for immediate gratification offered by a party with friends or attending a meeting which drags into the late hours of the night.

Secondly, excellence is understandably considered as a white value in South Africa. The denial of opportunities for blacks to excel in the past, has put the very concept of excellence into disrepute. It is thus not surprising that black students have come to aim at "madoda score" (50%), as long as they pass their courses. There is also sometimes pressure applied to those excelling, because they are seen as being "out of line". Such attitudes lead some students to conceal their test and examination results to avoid censure. Mediocrity is thus legitimated and entrenched.

The articulation of white guilt and black entitlement which is evident in some institutions in South Africa, poses a threat to future social relations. It further disadvantages blacks by treating them as sub-humans or brain-damaged creatures to whom the application of lower standards is justifiable.

All of the above processes undermine the evolution of a democratic culture, and limit the capacity of blacks to act as creative agents of transformation.


The opening up of political space is a third major factor in the process of social disintegration in the black community. A major reason for the acceleration of the process of disintegration is a misfit between political liberalisation, with inevitable rising expectations on one hand, and continuing constraints on the socio-economic level on the other.

Rising expectations accompanying liberalisation are inevitable and have not been adequately addressed by the government. Bottled-up frustrations and anger are being unleashed. For example, a month after Mandela's release a woman from a Khayelitsha squatter area asked in a letter to the editor of the Cape Times: Mandela has been released for a whole month now, where is my house? The same applies in other spheres of life where needs are strongly felt: jobs, schools, health care, etc. There is a strong emotive element in these demands.

Very rapid urbanisation, which is a consequence of artificial barriers maintained over many decades being relaxed, is putting enormous pressure on the limited infrastructure in the townships. Poor and inadequate housing, deteriorating public services and the shrinking job market are adding fuel to the fire of social disintegration.

Increased movement of populations is accelerating at two levels. Firstly, the flight of positive role models into better and safer areas is an increasing phenomenon, with serious long-term implications for the townships. Bishop Tutu, an exception to this trend, is on record as saying that he has taken a deliberate decision to stay in Soweto with the hope of retiring there, in order to continue being a model of hope for those trapped in the townships. Secondly, as the economy worsens more people are flocking to the urban areas from impoverished rural areas in search of better prospects.

Disintegrating communities are especially prevalent in the old established ghettos in the urban areas of South Africa, such as certain parts of Soweto, Guguletu and Nyanga in Cape Town, etc. Not all townships are necessarily affected.

Liberalisation also reduces respect for institutions. The process is itself an admission that something is wrong in the institutional framework of the society, thus increasing the vulnerability of all social institutions to pressure from disruptive elements. Anti-social and anti-authority behaviour also find easy legitimation and could easily become a way of life.


South Africans should resist the temptation of total despair and self-pity in the face of the current violence and signs of social disintegration. Given the systematic fomenting of social cleavages and their entrenchment in both law and practice over the past decades, there is a need to celebrate the resilience of black people and the fact that there is still so much goodwill and hope for a better future.

There is also the miracle that in spite of the legacy of the past and all the traumas of the present, there are still individuals and communities who are functioning reasonably well on all social indicators. For example, professionals, well-functioning families and successful individuals are a significant feature of the black community.

Phola Park, a squatter camp on the East Rand, is an example of a well-functioning community in a situation of great deprivation. The camp houses 45 000 people who share two taps and have no toilets. There is no electricity in this camp. The unemployment rate is 50%. Yet the local civic association is doing much better than many local authorities in black areas. Every house has a number, they feed 370 refugees of the current conflict on a daily basis, there is no sign of human excreta in public spaces. The squatter camp also borders on a brickyard which is not fenced, yet does not experience any theft of its stock because of the good relations with the civic association(7)


Social disintegration can become a source of autonomous violence. Some media reports indicate that in some areas such as Bekkersdal, such autonomous violence had already taken root in the first quarter of 1991. The appeal by political leaders for greater tolerance and peace may in such circumstances be ignored.

Such an escalation of violence can threaten the negotiation process and stall the transition to democratic rule for two main reasons. Firstly, violence may provoke a security clampdown, which may be seen as a reversal to authoritarian repression. Secondly, tensions may arise between negotiating partners and erode trust and confidence, with serious implications.

Social disintegration will not disappear with the institution of a democratically elected government, as some people would like us to believe. On the contrary, a democratically elected government will have greater difficulties dealing with lawlessness, criminality and irresponsibility, because it is likely to have a greater responsiveness to populist demands and critiques.

The implications of all the above will affect all South Africans. The wave of crime and violence is already sapping morale and will continue to erode confidence in the future.


The following points need to be stressed to conclude this section. Firstly, freedom alone will not bring equality. Equality will have to be achieved through creative equal opportunity programmes with an affirmative action element in them at all levels of society.

Secondly, social disintegration in the black community poses a threat to all South Africans. It is a problem which requires an investment in time and resources, if we are to avoid a downward spiral. There may well be a point of no return in the escalating violence, which will engulf whole communities, as is already the case in some areas of Natal and the Reef.

Thirdly, pressure arising from those caught in the spiral of disintegration can threaten major institutions of our society. For example, the erosion of the culture of learning has reached worrying proportions. The whole foundation of schooling is under threat.

Fourthly, experience in the United States indicates that it is an exceedingly difficult phenomenon to turn around. Throwing money at the problem, as has happened in the USA, is not the appropriate solution. Human beings need to have control over any developmental process if it is to have the desired impact.

There are thus a number of challenges we need to face if we are to successfully negotiate the transition in South Africa. Firstly, we have to acknowledge and name the problems we face: an appalling legacy of deprivation and dispossession, black victim image and white guilt. Secondly, we have to resist demands of the culture of entitlement and the use of double standards. Thirdly, we have to establish and enhance commonality in basic human values, differences where they do occur can only enrich the common ground so established. Finally, we have to insist on essential characteristics of successful institutions: structures, standards, pride and discipline.

What can be done about all this?

An important starting point is to recognise the residual capacity within the black community to respond to positive intervention. This capacity resides in individuals, support groups and organised pressure groups. There are also safety nets which people have developed over the years which can benefit from being strengthened. The following leverage points can be utilised in transformation and restoration of hope:

Ø. Families to effect different attitudes to child/parent relationships. Parents have to be enabled to deal with rebellion from children, without resorting to violence and rejection;

Ø. Churches;

Ø. Civics;

Ø. Women's organisations;

Ø. Youth groups across the spectrum;

Ø. Professional organisations;

Ø. Support networks: stokvels, burial societies, neighbourhood groups etc.

Strategies have to be both short- and long-term and there has to be congruence between ends and means to ensure successful outcomes. We all have to learn new habits of mind in our social interaction.

A conscious effort to invest in the black community has the potential of good returns which will strengthen the above groups and their impact on their communities. The said investments should be seen as part of a conscious effort to part with the past. Development of people should be the goal of such investments and would have to involve those targeted in every step of the process. Empowerment can only result from a holistic process. The targeting of symbolically meaningful intervention strategies with a potential for a multiplier effect would go a long way to restoring hope and trust.


(1) Barker, A., 'Community of the Careless' The South African Outlook, April 1970.

(2) Platzky, L. & Walker, C., Surplus Peop le, Raven Press, Johannesburg, 1985 and Desmond, C. The Discarded People: An account of African Resettlement in South Africa, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1971.

(3) Pinnock, D. 'Breaking the web: Economic consequences of the distraction of extended families by Group Areas relocation in Cape Town'. Carnegie Conference Paper No 258. Saldru, University of Cape Town.

(4) Wilson, F. & Ramphele, M., T iprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge. David Philip, Cape Town, 1989.

(5) Brian Pottinger of the Sunday Times, estimates that 60,000 people have been displaced in the conflict since mid 1980's as "combatants carve their territory tree-line by tree-line, stream by stream, path by path" (Pottinger, Sunday Times, 9/6/91).

(6) Steele, S., The Content of our Character: A New Vision of Rare in. America. St Martin's Press, New York, 1990.

(7) Information collected by scenario team last quarter, 1990.

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