Mothers’ pensions and the ‘civilised’ black poor: The racialised provision of child maintenance grants in South Africa, 1921–1940
du Toit, Marijke
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This article discusses the origins and early 20th-century administration of child maintenance grants, first introduced in South Africa in 1921 as an amendment to the Children’s Protection Act of 1913 and popularly known as ‘mothers’ pensions’. The grants were patently racialised: in the 1920s, government officials administered the grants so as to exclude people categorised as ‘native’ and as ‘Asian’. This article traces how, from the late 1920s, liberal members of the self-styled ‘Child Welfare Movement’ (which had established a country-wide network of local branches after the First World War) began advocating the extension of maintenance grants to African communities. During this period, mission-educated African women were also becoming increasingly involved in questions of social welfare. From the mid 1930s, growing numbers of Child Welfare Societies, along with some sympathetic magistrates, were advocating the extension of mothers’ pensions to indigent African mothers and children. In this context, senior bureaucrats in the national departments of Native Affairs and Social Welfare sought to clarify the social responsibilities of the state towards its impoverished ‘native’ subjects. The article considers the collaboration and the escalating contestation between organisations active in child welfare, civil servants and ministers of state.