Intergenerational Family Dependence: Contradictions in family policy and law
Working Paper Number: 415
Author: Elena Moore
Intergenerational financial support has been critical for the survival of many low-income households in South Africa, both historically and in contemporary society. Culture, in combination with necessity, leads wider kin members to assume a great deal of financial responsibility for dependents. Current social and legal structures do not always support diffuse patterns of dependency. An analysis of court cases reveals that the state, through the framework of the judicial system, attempts to accommodate new demands to recognise various forms of intergenerational support. Other state institutions, notably The Road Accident Fund, a social insurance system, has different practices and does not reflect the same understanding of dependency. The findings reveal that the court found practices of intergenerational financial support amongst diffuse kin relations and ruled that the Road Accident Fund was obliged to continue these following the death of a breadwinner in a road accident. The Road Accident Fund contested this responsibility by disputing the legal obligation of the deceased to support the kin member. Although the state, through the Courts, are actively promoting intergenerational interactions and living by supporting the complexity of family life for many in South Africa, the findings show that another state institution bases policies on certain assumptions about how families are structured and operate and tries to reinforce these assumptions even when they are not deemed legitimate by the groups affected. Whilst the lack of coherence in policy and law undermines any strong sense of agreed social norms about the family, it also causes practical problems for people having to come to court to ‘win’ their case and may result in a lack of take-up of certain benefits for those who do not go to court.