Social disintegration in India : Social Development

Social disintegration in India

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Dr Mamphela Ramphele is Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

Dr Ramphele is a medical doctor, and has a PhD in anthropology.

She is co-author, with Francis Wilson, of the book "Uprooting Poverty" and, with Barney Pityana, Malusi Mpumlwana and Lindy Wilson, of the book on Steve Biko and Black Consciousness in South Africa entitled "Bounds of Possibility".

This paper was delivered at a Joint Enrichment Project workshop on marginalised youth in June 1991. Monitor is grateful to Ms Shiela Sisulu and JEP for permission to print this paper.

'Deprived of their natural guides, children of migrants (and all other poor blacks) grow through an insecure, uncertain childhood to an adult life whose sole preoccupation may be to escape the system. There must be a harvest of aggression, with the weeds of violence growing rank within it. The dreadful society is the community of careless, of those who, treated like boys behave like boys; of those who, having no responsibilities laid upon them owe none to any man. In that chill climate will there be any place for trust? Any hope for human intercourse at all?" (Anthony Barker, 1970). (1)


Increasing concern is being expressed about the problem of "the alienated youth" or "the lost generation" or "marginalised youth". The concern is mostly based on the recognition of the potential of this sector of the South African population to destabilise the country, regardless of the nature of the political settlement achieved. A major limitation of this concern is its failure to locate the problem of the alienated youth in a wider analytical framework as a symptom of a deeper malaise - the rapid downward spiral towards total disintegration of the fabric of the black community.


Communities undergoing social disintegration have been observed to display some of the following behavioural patterns to a greater or lesser extent:

Ø Family breakdowns with rising divorce, separation, single parenthood and high teenage pregnancy rates.

Ø Low job participation with both high unemployment and unemployable rates.

Ø High alcohol and drug abuse.

Ø Low performance in all spheres of life including school and skills training.

Ø High crime rates and endemic violence at all levels of social interaction: family, inter-personal, neighbourhoods and wider community.

Ø Despair and acceptance of the victim image.

Ø Flight of skills and positive role models from the townships into higher income areas.

A similar phenomenon observed amongst blacks in the United States has been characterised by social scientists as the emergence of an underclass. Such characterisation presupposes the presence of dominant mainstream classes which can be used as reference points. There is strong empirical evidence of an underclass in the USA which under-performs in all respects in comparison with the American mainstream.

Other examples of this phenomenon are to be found in Ireland, and the United Kingdom amongst white working class people. India also has its own pockets of social disintegration. They seem to be communities bereft of any positive motivation to engage in creative strategies to deal with the challenges of life. The first Carnegie Report on Poverty in South Africa indicated that a large proportion of poor whites in the thirties also exhibited similar tendencies.

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