South African Culture


The family is the foundational unit of South African society. However, the term means  different things to different ethnicities in South Africa. For most white South Africans, ‘family’ (or the typical family household) refers to the nuclear family of immediate family members – mother, father and children. Meanwhile, Asian and mixed-race South Africans often consider the extended family to be as close as their immediate family and have multigenerational households.

For black South Africans, the structural pattern of the family is even more variable depending on the tribe to which they belong. Some households are multigenerational while others are horizontal (in which men and their families live in the oldest brother’s household). Furthermore, some tribes condone polygamy, offering a different family pattern entirely. In others, there is no concept of a family unit. One man in the community is considered the ‘King’ and rules as the patriarch. Men then have children with any woman they choose, and those children are raised communally or by their blood-related mother. These tribal orientations give a more communal understanding of kinfolk for many black South Africans. Like the blood-related family does for other cultures, the tribe gives emotional and financial support to the individual, provides a network, and defines one’s responsibility.

In most families, the father acts as the patriarch. Elders are shown significant respect by all ethnicities, but it is a standard more widely stressed in the mixed-race, black and Asian households. White South African families show respect to their close communal, family friends by referring to them as ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’.

Due to the high cost of living, women who are able to find a job almost always work. Those without a job are often expected to dote on their husbands. In communities that condone polygamy, women are not allowed to have more than one husband whilst men are allowed to have multiple wives. White South African couples divorce at a rate much lower than Australians due to their close adherence to Christian values.
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