Panafrican News Agency (PANA)
11 October 1996

Extended Family Breaking Up Fast in Zimbabwe
By Itai Musengeyi, correspondent

HARARE, Zimbabwe (PANA) - Like elsewhere in Africa, a combination of socio-economic factors are fast eroding Zimbabwe's age old traditional extended family system.

Urbanisation, industrialisation, economic hardships, adoption of Western values and widening of socio-economic gaps have disrupted family life in a nation which 50 years ago was quite close-knit.

Extended family ties have been slackening over the years as people of this southern African country of over 10.5 million become more concerned with their immediate families, with some even failing to adequately feed and clothe their spouses and children.

"Due to economic hardships some people now deliberately avoid extended families and do not want their addresses known to relatives," observes Rodreck Mupedziswa, deputy principal of the University of Zimbabwe's school of social work.

In Zimbabwe, the cost of living has been escalating since the government of President Robert Mugabe introduced economic reforms in 1991.

Mupedziswa says that socio-economic gaps are alienating Zimbabweans from each other. "The educated and wealthy no longer find it necessary to keep in touch with the extended family because they join clubs and associations where they interact with friends during their free time."

Industrialisation, he adds, is also causing the disintegration of extended families as youths migrate to urban areas in search of employment after acquiring educational qualifications.

But Marje Chigwanda, a training officer with CONNECT, a local family counselling organisation, believes extended families are breaking because society no longer shares the same culture, values and religion.

"In the pre-colonial age, people used to share a lot and were bonded together, but nowadays society believes in different religions and cultures," says Chigwanda. "Sometimes it is difficult for people who do not share the same beliefs to interact."

Urbanisation forces people to adopt different cultures, some of which emphasize on individualism resulting in the erosion of values such as sharing and consultation among relatives, she says.

"And because some families live far away from each other, children do not get to know who is who in the clan. This has led to a situation where grandmothers and aunties no longer have a place in the family to advise growing children," she points out.

Mupedziswa adds: "In the past grandmothers and aunties used to counsel children but nowadays people may feel the elderly are out of touch with the modern world."

Helpage Zimbabwe national chairman, Kingsley Dube, notes that the number of destitute elderly people is increasing due to the breakdown of the extended family system.

"The care of the elderly in African culture has been the responsibility of the community," he says.

But this responsibility is now largely being ignored, he adds, all because the Zimbabwe culture is under assault from the effects of urbanisation, economic pressures and foreign cultures.

Culture may be dynamic but for the black population in Zimbabwe, cushioned against the adversities and viccissitudes of life for many years, the price could be too harsh to pay.

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