The effects of urbanization on the African family life

Picture of African mother with her children.

A small cluster of huts surrounds an open courtyard.

Chickens and pigs freely roam the corn patch flanking the village.

All is peaceful.

For generations, this was the setting in which African families thrived.

Rural life bred close-knit families.

When children grew up, they did not venture out on their own but simply added their huts to the village.

There they lived under the undisputed patriarchal authority of their father or grandfather.

Nevertheless, this idyllic picture has been shattered by the drastic changes that modern industrial development has brought.

True, industrialization has provided African families with some material benefits.

The rural way of life was often plagued by droughts and unpredictable markets.

Families often subsisted on the barest of essentials.

Industrial development, however, has made it possible for African families to obtain better housing and furniture.

It has offered better educational and job opportunities.

But to take advantage of these benefits, Africans have had to abandon their quiet villages and flock to the cities.

There they have found not only hard cash but serious problems.


Crowded cities

A crowed slum in South Africa.

The most immediate problem has been that of housing.

The industrial slums in Britain during the Victorian era and the squatter settlements in present-day Africa have a common origin—people arrived seeking work in big cities which did not have the houses to accommodate them.”

African townships have become overcrowded, and slums have developed.

Once peaceful townships have become hotbeds of crime and violence.

Housing simply can not be built fast enough to keep up with the steady influx of people.

Compounds built to house men working at mines or in industry are not big enough to accommodate their wives and children.

The new city-dwellers have soon felt the effects of urban life on their families.

Men are often forced to work overtime.

Wives, too, enter the labor market, leaving children to their own devices.

A bumper crop of juvenile delinquents is produced as unsupervised children roam the streets for hours.


Fractured families

A picture of an African man.

Of course, not all have joined the exodus to the cities.

Some still live in their rural areas.

However, they, too, feel the ravages of industrialization.

Many men have left their families behind to serve as migrant workers on a yearly contract basis.

The effects of this are devastating.

Not only are their children left fatherless but the men and their wives are exposed to the temptations of immorality.

Indeed, in many of the huge compounds that house the workers by the thousands, immorality—including homosexuality—has become rampant.

Further, many men are tempted to work overtime so as to augment their income.

But does this income benefit their families back home? Not always.

Many frankly show little concern for their families and squander their money on themselves.

Their headship role is diminished to that of distant breadwinner.

Further family fragmentation takes place when parents, realizing the poor prospects for their children in rural areas, send them to the towns either to work or to gain a better education.

But perhaps one of the greatest evils the family has suffered is the neglect of elderly parents.

Traditionally, the aged could always count on family care, and they, in turn, would contribute much to the moral welfare of the family.

The Western custom of institutionalizing the aged was absolutely unheard of in Africa!

But the urban way of life has undermined this traditional respect for the elderly.

All too often they are left behind as the young venture out to the cities.

Some of the problems of the elderly are as result of not feeling needed and not being part of society.

Despite this millions more will stream to the cities.

They will add to the African nations problems of even higher migrant influx, a low standard of living, unemployment and housing shortages.

So the future looks bleak for family life in Africa.

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