Family Matters: Families in transition

Family Matters
© Gift Habeshaw

Global upheavals are reflected in African families. Migration tears families apart and creates new transnational families. Distances diminish the sense of responsibility for the wider kinship.

"I'm not going home for Christmas this year. It's just getting too expensive for me to take care of everyone. My own children here have needs, too." It is no longer a matter of course that a person with a fixed income supports needy relatives far away. "Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu?", a collection of testimonials compiled by Niq Mhlongo, made it onto South Africa's bestseller list and will soon be filmed.
 
"Ubuntu" means "humanity" in the Nguni languages of southern Africa. It expresses that human beings become human only through others. This ideal has suffered fractures because cohesion in families is diminishing. And because need is increasing - through unemployment, expensive education, structural economic disadvantages from colonial times and apartheid, for instance due to land theft and displacement.  
 
In 2020, nine Goethe-Instituts in Sub-Saharan Africa will each collect stories from five different family constellations. These are narrated as films, audio plays or texts from the first-person perspective. All 45 family stories will be digitally documented and a selection presented in an exhibition. Visual family history also enters into the picture: family items from everyday life that have been handed down over generations and are thus emotionally significant (a vessel, a piece of clothing, a stool), snapshots and wedding photos.  
 
Looking at the countries south of the Sahara, one sees considerable differences. In one country there are rainbow families, in the other LGBTIQ are criminalised. States intervene to a greater or lesser extent in family structures: In one country, the state forces unmarried couples to marry after two years of living together; property and inheritance rights for polygamous families are partly regulated by the state, partly by tradition; the minimum age for marriage and family planning measures are handled differently.
 
But there are also similarities: Family is not limited to blood relatives and married couples, but open to new members on the basis of sympathy and need. People spend a lot of time with their families and devote a great deal of attention to them. Children grow up with grandparents or other relatives, while their parents live and work thousands of miles away.
 
The digital project "Family Matters" will recount how African families live today and what the future could look like for families in the 21st century. For more information on the project in other regions, please check here.