Childcare choices amongst low-income employed mothers in rural and urban KwaZulu-Natal

The issue of childcare is one that proves to be trying for low-income working mothers, as women continue to be the primary caregivers for children, thus, inheriting most of the responsibilities pertaining to childcare. In the South African context, as explained by Fakier and Cock (2009) the African working-class households are sites of a crisis of social reproduction. In contemporary South Africa, African working-class women are the shock absorbers of this crisis. This research aims to study how low-income working mothers provide care for their children through institutions of care such as the state, market and kin. Women as shock absorbers have difficulty navigating their way to provide care for their childcare in the mist of the apartheid legacy, which disadvantaged many black women in educational attainment and consequently economic opportunities. Choices pertaining to childcare are often negotiated within the context of the family, but for low-income employed mothers in urban and rural KwaZulu-Natal as this study has depicted, it would appear to fall on working women with minimal support from the (wider) family.

This paper discusses the findings of a qualitative study undertaken in urban and rural sites in KwaZulu-Natal. Low-income employed mothers with children between the ages of 0-4 years, shared their lived experiences of being low-income workers and how this impacted their childcare choices. The paper will discuss findings drawn from 40 interviews with low-income employed mothers ages 20-45. In understanding the lived experiences of the low-income mothers, it was clear that the bulk if not all the responsibility and duty to provide childcare fell on the women alone. These findings dispel the myth of the narrative that in low-income settings, it is often older women (grandmothers) who are care providers. Further, the uniqueness of KwaZulu-Natal as a study site meant a strong relatedness to culture and the adherence of cultural norms, such as the payment of inhlawulo for the securing of patrilineal belonging. What was pronounced, was a generational shift in the observation of this custom. Amongst older generations, the concept of having children outside of marriage was shunned and frowned upon; to lengths that made inhlawulo and subsequently marriage paramount. However, the data from research participants in this study suggests that this phenomenon has shifted such that the custom of inhlawulo is not always observed.

The paper presents generational shifts, through dispelling of the grandmother myth, as childcare for participants in the study is quite a lone experience. There is also a key shift in the cultural practice of inhlawulo; with an increasing number of children being born outside of marriage within communities which continue to uphold cultural adherence.


Nonzuzo Mbokazi holds a Master of Social Science in Sociology from Rhodes University. She is currently pursuing a PhD with the Department of Sociology, and FaSRU, at the University of Cape Town. The thesis of her doctoral study is focused on low-income mothers and childcare state policy. Nonzuzo has a strong interest in public policy as she is of the view that sociology can help to better understand how institutional inertia affects public policy initiatives; which is so pertinent to a developing country such as South Africa.


Tue, 12 Mar 2019 -
12:50 to 14:00

CSSR Seminar room, Room 4.29 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus

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