Dr Angelique van Rensburg, Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Optentia Research Focus Area, North-West University, achieved her PhD in Educational Psychology in 2015. Angelique has a special interest in quantitative methods, data/open science, the carpentries and the well-being of South African young people.

Website: www.angeliquevanrensburg.com

Email: angelique@angeliquevanrensburg.com

Twitter: @AngvanRensburg

Ungar (2011; 2012) hypothesised resilience as a socio-ecological facilitated process whereby individuals can ask/negotiate for health-promoting resources, and their social ecology (e.g., parents, teachers, social workers) in return provides support in culturally and contextually aligned ways. South African qualitative studies of youth resilience have indicated that Ungar’s expression is plausible, but not quantitatively tested, including in South Africa. Therefore, the main purpose of the study was to investigate black Sesotho-speaking South African youths’ resilience processes from a social-ecological perspective, using a sample of black South African youth from the Thabo Mofutsanyana District, Free State province. This PhD study allowed for a more in-depth understanding of the resilience processes of 1 137 black South African youths who participated in the Pathways to Resilience Research Project (see www.resilienceresearch.org) and completed the Pathways to Resilience Youth Measure (PRYM).

Firstly, a review of quantitative studies of South African youth resilience was conducted which resulted in 13 peer-reviewed papers. The aim of this review was to investigate if South African studies of youth resilience address the international critiques of the conceptualisation and measurement of resilience. What emerged is that, for the most part, quantitative studies did not explain resilience as a complex socio-ecological process. For example, most quantitative resilience studies did not embed their research designs in up-to-date theoretical frameworks, did not take advantage of sophisticated statistical techniques or did not make use of culturally suitable instruments to study youths’ resilience. In addition, the manuscript called for quantitative studies that would statistically explain the complex dynamic resilience-supporting transactions between South African youths and their contexts (Van Rensburg, Theron, & Rothmann, 2015).

To address these concerns, a second component of the research answered the aforementioned call by grounding its research design in Ungar’s Social-Ecological Explanation of Resilience. Ungar’s explanation of resilience was modelled using latent variable modelling[i] in Mplus 7.2 with data gathered by the PRYM by 730 black South African school-going youths. Results indicated that a social-ecological understanding of black South African youths’ resilience was plausible – that youths interact with the challenges as well as the resources in their communities towards health-promoting resources, but more so that meaningful resources contribute significantly to the resilience process. Result also highlighted that education that is ‘right’, ‘necessary’ and ‘respectful’ is a meaningful culturally appropriate resource within this sample of black South African youth.

A further component of the research provided deeper insight into aspects of black South African youths’ resilience processes. The aim was to investigate youths’ self-reported perceptions of resilience-promoting resources. Using measurement invariance in Mplus 7.2, two subsamples (i.e., functionally resilient (n = 221) and formal service-using (n = 186)) of youth showed that perceptions of physical and psychological caregiving varied significantly, even though both samples perceived similar accounts of caregiver presence. What was concluded is that higher perceptions of physical and psychological caregiving were associated with the more frequent use of voluntary supports. It is thus not enough for communities to make meaningful resources available, but rather communities need to give precedence to caregiving-promotion (Van Rensburg, Theron, & Rothman, 2017).

The overall study provided proof that, in the face of adversity, youths’ positive outcomes require constructive interaction between an individual and his/her social ecology. In particular, education emerged as a culturally relevant support, provided youths perceived their education as relevant, respectful, and indispensable. Furthermore, Sesotho-speaking South African youths’ perceptions of caregiving resources (rather than caregiver presence) were central to their resilience processes.


Ungar, M. (2011). The social ecology of resilience: Addressing contextual and cultural ambiguity of a nascent construct. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81(1), 1-17. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.2010.01067.x

Ungar, M. (2012). Social ecologies and their contribution to resilience. In M. Ungar (Ed.), The social ecology of resilience: A handbook of theory and practice. (pp. 13-31). New York, NY: Springer.

Van Rensburg, A., Theron, L., & Rothmann, S. (2015). A review of quantitative studies of South African youth resilience: Some gaps. South African Journal of Science (7),1. doi:10.17159/sajs.2015/20140164

Van Rensburg, A.C., Theron, L.C., & Rothmann, S. (2017).  Adolescent perceptions of resilience-promoting resources: the South African Pathways to Resilience Study.  South African Journal of Psychology.  Advanced online publication.  doi: 10.1177/0081246317700757

[i] Also known as structural equation modelling used in multivariate statistical analysis to analyse structural relationships




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