Recently, on a European tour together with representatives of institutions of the Solidarity Movement, I was again strongly impressed by the enduring role of families in societies in a meeting with a host organization in Hungary.
It then strikes me that in South Africa we perhaps focus more often on communities, while the family in both a religious and social context receives less and less attention. Of course, one must be careful not to want to compare our country with situations that take place in another country far from here, but it makes sense to at least try to identify the points of contact and lessons that can be learned from them.
In Hungary, the demographic danger lights began to flicker in all seriousness between 2001 and 2005, when population growth in this central European country reached a historic low. Only 1.29 children per woman were born during that period; consequently, the total number of citizens decreased from 2001’s 10.19 million to 10.09 million in 2005.
In the meeting with – and in a brochure from – the aforementioned host organization, Center for Fundamental Rights (SFR), located in the capital Budapest, we are told that the population situation at the time had specific implications for the country. This increasing decline in Hungary’s population numbers, those concerned in civil society and the government believed, “posed a threat to the stability and future of the nation”.
The brochure (A snapshot of Hungary’s Family Policy) outlines how policy makers stepped in to bring about a change. To rely on “illegal migration”, as elsewhere in Europe, would not do, they decided. New problems would moreover be created in this way – and these new problems, was the Hungarian point of view, “would then put pressure, tangible and continuous, on the nation and continent”.
As a Hungarian solution to a wider problem, the government has developed a nationwide strategic family policy. “We subscribe to the view that demographic problems must be solved by relying on our own resources, by mobilizing our own reserves and by our own spiritual renewal,” says the head of state, Prime Minister Victor Orbán, in the SFR’s brochure.
This paved the way to offer specific and targeted financial and social incentives to citizens in order to encourage couples to have more children, strengthen the “nuclear family” and safeguard national security. These include home ownership for young families prioritized and supported by subsidized loans and non-repayable grants; tax credits offered to couples getting married; and new working mothers, who take time off work to care for their new additions to the family, receive 100% of their previous salary (with only income tax deducted).
“Family policy must be focused on the mother and the functioning of the entire country must be made family-friendly,” believes the prime minister. This is in line with his party’s policy directions, which, as Willie Spies recently pointed out in his column, are modeled on “love for the country, the Hungarian people and Christianity”. But it is an ideological mindset that causes Orbán and his Alliance of Young Democrats to be labeled as “far-right” by opponents.
What was also important, we heard from our host, Péter Törcsi, operational director of the SFR, was to stand firmly against the onslaught of “radical gender ideology”. The Hungarian government and the SFR firmly believe – in accordance with the Christian faith – that “the mother is a woman and the father is a man”.
Despite the criticism, the intervention to deal with Hungary’s “demographic problems” is beginning to produce results. The 2023 population figure of 10.15 million is beginning to move closer to 2001’s 10.19 million. This is attributed to a 50% decrease in abortions, a 100% increase in marriages and a fertility rate that has risen by almost 30%.
In the same period in South Africa, the average “fertility rate” was 2.8 children per woman with a strikingly lower (although constant) 1.7 for white women compared to that of black women (3.0), browns (2.3 ) and Indian and Asian average of 1.9. The country’s total population has risen from 47.2 million in 2001 and 49.02 million in 2005 to an estimated 60.4 million in 2023.
Locally, the demographic challenge is therefore not a shrinking population, but a population growth that can also, as the Hungarian concern is expressed, “put the stability and future of the nation” in jeopardy.
To what can this point of contact with the situation in Hungary be attributed? Because, as things currently stand, more people will depend on infrastructure that collapses due to non-maintenance; unemployment, which is already sky high, will increase; and growing numbers of poor citizens will depend on social grants. Such challenges could possibly be handled or limited if the country’s economy grew at a rate that gives the state coffers a much-needed injection.
Unfortunately, the state coffers remain hungry due to corruption and excessive spending on, among other things, political office holders – a worrying reality that contributed to July 2021’s rioting and looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
However, the impression the ANC government leaves is that it suits them better that the majority of citizens here with us try to survive in a permanent state of dependence on state aid. In this way, they can make people believe that it is only the ANC that will take care of them, but in the process little attention is paid to the social disintegration that causes so many people’s mouths to be kept open by grants. Absent fathers are not held to account; and absent mothers rely on grandparents to care for the children.
No wonder then that four out of every ten children in South Africa grow up in single-parent families, as was found in a survey by the Social Research Foundation. In most cases this single parent is the mother, rarely the father. But the survey also found that up to 55% of South Africa’s single parents vote for the ANC. You would think that this puts the party in a good position to emphasize to supporters the importance of the value that stable families bring to society, but this is clearly too much to ask.
In this regard, civil organisations, such as those that form part of the Solidarity Movement, must drive the initiative to position families as the anchor and foundation of society – despite the ANC’s political opportunism and the predictable attack that can be expected from the world of “radical gender ideology”.