“The children of today make the nation of tomorrow” : a social history of child welfare in twentieth century South Africa

Muirhead, Jennifer (2012-03)

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: “The cry of the children of the needy is bitter and heartrending, and any effort towards stilling it deserves the best support and encouragement of the community… every day it rises in despairing appeal for succour and relief.” So wrote a South African newspaper editor in the early 1900s. This “cry” was answered by the emergence of a fledgling child welfare movement in South Africa, largely under the impetus of private charities mimicking international trends – particularly those of the metropole. The 1913 Children’s Act codified child protection, whilst government policies such as child maintenance grants helped in targeting one of the key challenges of child welfare: (white) poverty. Progressively, state and welfare became ever more entwined, epitomised by the formation of the National Council of Child Welfare in 1924 and the Social Welfare Department of 1937. Whilst the state played a constructive role when the aims of child welfare organisations tallied with its own goals (such as eliminating white poverty) it took on a more malevolent form when child welfare organisations did not toe the party-line, by turning their attention from white children to black children in the late 1930s. The movement towards an apartheid state in 1948 saw the consolidation of de facto racial policies into de juro government legislation. This thesis explores the delicate balance between maintaining state support, whilst upholding the values of independent welfare, “irrespective of race or class, of politics or creed”. Despite asserting such inclusive sentiments, borrowed from international discourses, child welfare in South Africa could not be removed from its local socio-political context. The 1953 Bantu Education Act and the 1960 Children’s Act consolidated racial separation through the unequal allocation of state resources to black and white children. Despite the muted concerns of child welfare activists, apartheid discrimination towards African children increased as the century progressed, intensifying hostility and necessitating the agency of African youth towards the apartheid government culminating in the Soweto Uprising of 16 June 1976 and its aftermath. The key aim of this thesis is to illustrate that, while government involvement in welfare brought many benefits to the South African child welfare movement, it simultaneously created a dependence that would make child welfare organisations vulnerable to racialised party politics and bureaucracy in the twentieth century. This is evidenced in the divergence of child welfare along racial lines with white children receiving care similar to that in the Anglophone west, whilst African children were largely neglected. The unequal allocation of resources according to race served to consolidate white hegemony for generations of South Africans, as the “children of today make the nation of tomorrow”.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: “Die geween van die kinders in nood is hartverskeurend en bitter, en enige pogings om hierdie nood te verlig, verdien om deur die gemeenskap ondersteun en aangemoedig te word … elke dag is daar wanhopige krete tot hulp en verligting.” Só het ʼn Suid-Afrikaanse koerantredakteur in die vroeë twintigste eeu geskryf. Die “geween” is beantwoord deur die ontstaan van ʼn kinderwelsynsbeweging in Suid-Afrika. Hierdie beweging is grootliks ondersteun deur private welsynsbewegings wat internasionale tendense nagevolg het, in besonder dié van die metropool. Die 1913 Kinderwet het kinderbeskerming gedefinieer en regeringsbeleid soos onderhoudstoekennings het terselfdertyd gehelp om een van die grootste probleme in kinderwelsyn, naamlik (wit) armoede aan te spreek. Die staat en kinderwelsyn het toenemend met mekaar verweef geraak wat uiteindelik gelei het tot die stigting van die Nasionale Raad van Kinderwelsyn in 1924 en die Department van Maatskaplike Welsyns in 1937. Die regering het ʼn konstruktiewe rol gespeel wanneer kinderwelsyn organisasies se doelwette met die van die regering (soos om wit armoede uit te wis) gesinkroniseer het. In gevalle waar die organisasies regeringsbelied uigedag het soos in die geval van die verskuiwing van die fokus van hul aktiwiteite in die 1930s na swart kinders het die regering se rol ‘n meer destruktiewe aard ontwikkel. Met die beweging na ʼn apartheid staat in 1948 was daar ʼn vereenselwiging van die de facto rassebeleid met die de jure regeringsbeleid. Hierdie tesis ondersoek die delikate balans tussen die behoud van regeringsondersteuning en die handhawing van die beleid van verkaffing van onafhanklike welsyn, “ongeag ras, klas, politieke oortuigings of geloof.” Ten spyte van die handhawing van hierdie inklusiewe benadering in navolging van internasionale diskoers, kon kinderwelsyn in Suid-Afrika nie sy plaaslike sosio-politieke konteks ontkom nie. Die 1953 Wet op Bantoe-Onderwys tesame met die 1960 Kinderwet het rasseskeiding verskans deur die oneweredige toekenning van regeringshulpbronne aan swart en blanke kinders. Ten spyte van kinderwelsyn-aktiviste se gedempte protes, het diskriminasie teenoor swart kinders deur die loop van die eeu toegeneem. Dit het wrewel jeens die regering verdiep wat weerstand onder die swart jeug aangemoedig het en uiteindelik in die Soweto opstande van 16 Junie 1976 gekulmineer het. Die hoofdoel van hierdie tesis is om te illustreer dat, alhoewel regeringsbetrokkenheid in welsyn vele voordele vir die Suid-Afrikaanse kinderwelsynsbeweging ingehou het, dit terselfdertyd ʼn soort afhanklikheid geskep het wat die kinderwelsynsorganisasies in die twintigste eeu kwesbaar gelaat het vir rasgebaseerde party politiek en burokrasie. Die kwesbaarheid word ten beste geillustreer deur die ontwikkeling van rasgebaseerde kinderwelsyn in terme waarvan wit kinders behandeling soortgelyk aan die van die Engelstalige weste ontvang het, terwyl swart kinders grootliks verwaarloos is. Die ongelyke toekenning van hulpbronne ten opsigte van ras het gelei tot die verstewiging van wit dominansie in Suid-Afrika vir talle generasies, aangesien “die kinders van vandag die nasie van môre is”.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/20199
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