South Africa’s Hybrid Care Regime: The changing and contested roles of individuals, families and the state after apartheid

Year: 2017

Working Paper Number: 404

Unit: FaSRU

Author: Kirsty Button, Elena Moore and Jeremy Seekings


Both cross-national variation and changes over time in the organisation of care work have been well documented, but what happens when different systems collide? This paper examines care work within the context of South Africa. Before and under apartheid, the state sought to institutionalise a dualistic welfare and care regime along racial lines. The system for white citizens drew on (but did not replicate precisely) British practices and norms: white citizens relied on the market (if they could afford it) or public programmes (if they were not rich), with public programmes based on Anglocentric assumptions about the family dynamic. Public programmes generally excluded the poor and effectively disenfranchised African population, who relied on familial provision for care, subject to discriminatory regulation by the state, including through ‘Native’ or ‘customary’ law (at least through its codified version). Democratisation (in the early 1990s) posed new policy-makers with two options: deracialisation, i.e. extending to the African majority the privileges that hitherto had been largely confined to the white minority; and transformation, i.e. reforming the welfare and care regime to render it more appropriate to the practices, norms and needs of the African majority. Policy-makers’ choices were framed by two contextual factors: the fiscal crisis of the post-apartheid state, and the predominance of a discourse that accorded women and children rights as autonomous individuals. Deracialisation led to the rapid expansion of some programmes to cover the whole population. Fiscal constraints, developmental priorities and conservative norms pushed policy-makers into rolling back some other programmes, transferring functions to the market and preserving some of the roles played by extended kin. When public provision was expanded, it was widely criticised by conservatives for encouraging behaviour that violated conservative familial norms. On the ground, familial norms and values have been highly fluid in the face of social and economic change. Ordinary people have navigated between the market (if they could afford it), the state and the family. The South African care regime is thus a hybrid regime, with diverse origins in European and African practices and norms, refashioned by post-apartheid elites and ordinary people, and subject to continuing politicisation and contestation.

Publication file: WP 404 Button et al.pdf