Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



The controversial state-sponsored family planning program officially began in South Africa in 1974. Although the government did not implement the program on a racial basis, the program was widely believed to be linked with white fears of growing black numbers, and was attacked by detractors as a program of social and political control. In spite of the hostile environment, black women’s use of services steadily increased. Using historical and anthropological evidence, this paper delineates the links between the social and political context of racial domination and individual fertility behavior. It argues that the quantitative ‘success’ of the family planning program is rooted in profound social and economic shifts conditioning reproductive authority and fertility decisionmaking. The analysis traces tensions over reproductive control within and across three different arenas: the evolution of national politics of population; the transformation of gender relations within a racially discriminatory society; and the proscriptions of everyday life for black women. State policies of racial segregation and influx control, ethnic ‘homeland’ politics, and male labor migration transformed opportunities and constraints for black women and men, and altered local and household expectations of childbearing. Women came to manage their own fertility as they increasingly found themselves in precarious social and economic circumstances.