They don't listen: contemporary respect relations between Zulu grandmothers and granddaughters/-sons




Intergenerational respect is the hallmark of social relations in African society. In South Africa, respect for older persons is thought to have suffered due to factors such as rapid urbanization and modernization, and the disruptive effects of labour migration and harsh apartheid laws on family life. Individual and group interviews were conducted with over 80 Zulu grandmothers and teenaged granddaughters and grandsons living in urban and rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal in 1995 and 1996, to elicit contemporary views on respect for older persons. The study confirmed that the teaching of respect is regarded as a key role of Zulu grandmothers. Contemporary granddaughters are less obedient and subservient than earlier generations but nevertheless rely on their grandmothers for moral guidance and practical assistance. The grandmothers in the study complained that their granddaughters did not always listen to their advice. In particular, issues relating to teenage pregnancy threatened to strain good grandmother-granddaughter relationships. The participants discussed the value of the re-introduction of rituals controlled by older women in traditional society, such as virginity examinations, to restore the social order. The study concludes that many aspects of grandmothers' teachings still have relevance for todays young people who are starved of authority and guidance in their lives.


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