Diary Pages: Intergenerational relationships

The lockdown and the spread of COVID-19 has changed the way most South African’s experience everyday life. To understand the impact of lockdown on intergenerational relationships we asked our diarists: Do you think that the lockdown has changed relationships between younger and older people in your household and your community? If so, in what ways have they changed? 

Debating change

Several diarists felt there has not been any noticeable change in the way household members and communities engage with each other, across generational lines. Andile from Khayelitsha explained, ‘No it hasn’t changed we still respect 1 another like before lockdown’.

‘As far as I can tell the relationship between younger people and older people has remained the same. At least this is the case in my household. There haven’t been any significant changes in interaction either’. Riyaaz, Primrose Park

The majority diarists noted, however, that relationships between younger and older members of the household, and relationships within broader communities had changed. For some this change was for the better, for others, as we shall see below, it was not.

Improved relationships in the home

Our diarists felt that bonds between grandparents, parents and children had strengthened. Ash from Delft notes that some have ‘used this lockdown to bond and know each other better and that strengthened their relationships’. China, also from Khayelitsha agrees that, ‘Lockdown has brought some closeness and togetherness to most families‘ and Nozuko from Siyahlala describes how ‘Younger ones used to be all over, but now we learnt to be in one place, we getting to know each other than before and appreciating each other, cooking and having fun together’.

‘Lockdown have changed behaviour in my household a lot…Being lockdown. In the begining it was hard. Lots of mix emotions. Dealling with my teenage son…[now] I’ve seen some change. He is coming round now helping with the younger 2 [siblings]…My relationship with my son have changed dramatically we still have a long way to go’. Ameena, Woodstock (RTC)

‘Since lockdown there does seem to be a change for the better in my daughter’s behaviour. She’s more respectful and helpful at home. I notice in normal times there was always a sarcastic attitude when she was around with outside friends…So, I think this lockdown has brought communities and families together…There seems to be more of a comradery’. Lilly, Woodstock

‘Yes, it has changed the relationship of young and old in our house. We younger generation is less on our cellphones and we communicate more with each other. We sometimes get frustrated because my mother asks too many questions when we are watching movies, but we happy we healthy and safe’. Warren, Hangberg

‘Within our immediate household, relationships have changed as we negotiate schoolwork and housework…despite us all being together 24/7, everyone is pulling together and trying to be respectful of each other and our needs’. Natalie, Newlands

 More care of elderly

Numerous diarists noted how both within households and more broadly, younger generations were taking more care of the elderly. As Sparrow in Newlands explained, the ‘Community has become more aware and sensitive about older people’.  Jazzy D, who lives in an occupation in Woodstock agreed, ‘now the elders are being more protected and respected. And I hope it stays so’.

‘I noticed that young people have a respect to elderly…before it was even difficult to ask youth to go to shops or asking something to do for now there way are willing to do it surprises the unity is so much appreciated .the respect and attitude also with elderly people is amazing. Zama, Seapoint (RTC)

‘A friend of mine relocated his mother to live with him, from the Eastern Cape – not sure he would have done this prior to Coronavirus.’  Audioman, Newlands  

‘Taking greater care of our ederly has been the order of the day. The youngers concern regarding our elders was very visible as covid are known to prey on people who are sickly and older I would also not allow my mother to be outside so I ran errands for her.’ Fadwah, Hangberg

Care in the community

While many diarists spoke of improved intergenerational relationships in the home, others reflected on how support structures between young and old had improved in the community.

‘In the community in general people have learned to struggle more together like when there’s people giving food every one reach for others that they can share So in that way there is that close cooperation’. Samkelo, Imizamo Yethu 

‘Definitely this lockdown has closed the long gap amongst individuals.  People are working together as one.  As well as the community members they try their level best to assist one another where they can to do what is right’. Nomaxabiso, Khayelitsha

‘It has by bringing those  who  weren’t  close  to  each  other  closer  and talking  to  those  who  never  had  time  to  have  a chat… to also seeing  artistic  talents  amongst  the  youth in the  community  collective  activities [and]…assistance  with  teenagers  with  their  school work [and]…a feeding scheme being  arranged  for  the  community…its been  a life  turning  experience’.   Mpho, Seapoint

Yes, relationships have changed, but for the worse

While for many, intergenerational relationships have strengthened, for others, existing bonds and relationships have been fractured. The thread of the virus and the consequences of lockdown have put strain on family and community relationships.

‘My mother is a nurse and she got news that she’s positive, all her grandchildren had to go to their mothers, which made her sad and lonely, this pandemic is a family breaker’. Diarist from Khayelitsha

‘There is during the lockdown more arguments in relationships and between parents and kids because of frustration of no money for smoking or drinking or kids can’t come and go as they pleased’. Phillip, Hangberg 

‘We have witnessed completely opposing opinions from both sets of grandparents. One set strongly believes that the lockdown is problematic and should be lifted and they refuse to abide by the rules. The other set of grandparents is very strictly compliant and is very concerned about covid-19. This has caused some tension within the extended family’. Natalie, Newlands

Less respect for the elderly

A number of diarists noted that respect for the elderly had actually decreased rather than improved due to COVID-19 and the lockdown. Tiffany in Salt River explained that ‘People are desperate and disrespectful. Younger people do not help or assist the elderly who are vulnerable and susceptible to the virus.’.  Zizipho in Ramaphosa agreed that ‘It has change the attitude of the children/yournger people towards the older people. They don’t have respect since they stay with their parents with nothing to do, because of this COVID19’.

‘In the olden days men used to lead and take control of everything happening in their households but currently that has changed now that it is lockdown even younger ones do not have respect for elders. It seems as if lockdown has given everybody (young and old) freedom to do anything at any given moment. It looks like lockdown has brought too much freedom’. China, Khayelitsha

‘Oh yes the relationships changed during lockdown between young and old in many ways in my community. Firstly, the older people have stayed indoors and observed the lockdown rules and the warning that it is them that easily get infected because of other diseases that weaken their immunity. On other hand its different story for the young people. They do not follow the rules at all, always out if they not looking for ciggies its alcohol, making never ending queues in malls, soccer grounds and parks’.  Nonceba, Khayelitsha

The impact of alcohol

The removal of the ban on alcohol sales has had a significant impact on intergenerational relationships for a number of diarists. As Neziswa from Shukushukuma explains, ‘Before level 3 everything was fine but now since Alcohol is open is changing everything’. Gift from Imizamo Yethu is concerned that, ‘people have forgotten that we still under lockdown since the opening of the alcohol’.

‘In level 4 and 5 the younger respect the older but after level 3 all things changed.  Alcohol and drug abuse changed everything because they drunk and misbehavior old people. [Now] the people drunk all the time, am so worried about that…Last week as a Khayelitsha CAN we went to Site C to visit old women’s home and when we arrived there their grandson shouted at them and tried to beat the old women. We came in a right time and stop everything’. Zukiswa, Khayelitsha

‘There was respect when alcohol was not sold, people were doing good things, and the president opened the sale of alcohol. Thanks to him people have lost their lives, if I had the power I would say lets go back to level 4, level 3 is here to destroy our families and friends… before the allowing the sell of alcohol there were no complaints from mothers but now we hear them, from the first Monday when alcohol was sold. They are stabbing each other, things that we have [not] seen in a while’. Sam, Khayelitsha


Should the state play a role in managing the sale of alcohol?

Will the strengthened relationships between old and young be maintained after lockdown ends and the threat of COVID-19 eases?

Will changed intergenerational relationships have an impact on households’ and communities’ ability to respond to the COVID-19 crisis?


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