The South African experience in fertility transition has been unique in sub-Saharan Africa, if not the world. Fertility has declined substantially during the apartheid era to a TFR of 2,9, which is unprecedented relative to the rest of Africa. The transition towards closing the gap between low fertility aspirations and small completed family sizes has moved much further in South Africa compared to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. However, this occurred amidst great social upheaval of especially Africans, the impoverishment of millions, a large proportion of who were African women and their children, stark inequalities and the systematic disempowerment of women.
An attempt was made to explain the reasons for this dramatic fertility decline despite high levels of poverty and low levels of development among all four racial groups. The issues of high non-marital fertility in South Africa and high contraceptive use were discussed in order to better understand the singular manifestation of fertility decline in conditions of low status of women and abject poverty. We found evidence that various factors converged to create the situation where women had to accept virtually sole responsibility for childrearing without access to productive resources. Their response was to control their fertility, not as a result of educational and career aspirations or affluent lifestyles, but as a survival strategy. The reproductive and sexual rights of South Africa's disadvantaged women were constantly disregarded and abused on the one hand, because of the total breakdown in family life caused by influx control and the homeland system, and their low status and lack of development on the other hand. Nevertheless, they accepted contraception as their way of exercising some control over their own bodies.
The basic difference between fertility patterns in South Africa and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa is not based on fertility being valued differently; fertility is still highly valued in South Africa. Rather, it was deprivation of access to land and the total breakdown of the traditional lifestyle, both socially and economically, that made fertility control a rational choice for South African women.
However, the high levels of unwanted and teenage pregnancies as well as the high unmet need for contraception are still of major concern. This shows clearly that women, especially Africans and coloureds, still lack control over their own reproductive choices and still experience emotional trauma with respect to fertility. They further lack the development opportunities to empower themselves in order to take full control over their reproductive lives, as propagated by the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 1994. HIV/AIDS and its consequences will definitely lower the fertility rate in the near future and its full impact is still not clear.
While poverty, racial and gender inequality and fragmentation of society persist, we cannot pride ourselves as South Africans on our excellent gains in fertility decline. As long as South African women do not enjoy freedom to control their own bodies within supportive relationships with husbands or partners, population problems relating to fertility will remain a major national concern.
Specific focus needs to be put on empowerment programmes for teenagers as well as vulnerable African rural women in order for them to take control of their reproductive choices. The lack of male responsibility for childrearing that was emphasised as a crucial contributing factor to African women's need for fertility control holds significant implications for reproductive health programmes and services. Essential interventions include the upliftment of the status of women through education and employment, radical changes in the social structures that influence female autonomy and the eradication of poverty.
It is the author's believe that fertility will kept on declining for the African, Asian and Coloured populations and will reach replacement level by 2020-2025. However, with the future impact of HIV/AIDS on our population growth replacement level could even be obtain at a much earlier date as anticipated.
Figure VI: Comparison of contraceptive use by racial group between 1990-1998
Source: SADHS Project Team, " South Africa in transition: selected findings from the South African Demographic Health Survey (Pretoria: Government Printers, 1998).