Speech by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, at the Annual General Meeting of the South African Older Persons' Forum, in Mangaung
20 Oct 2011
Premier of the Free State, Mr Ace Magashule,
Deputy Minister of Social Development, Mama Maria Ntuli,
MEC for Social Development, Ms Sisi Ntombela,
Chairperson of the South African Older Persons Forum, Mr Tom Boya,
The leadership of the Forum, and
Our most important guests: Older Persons from all provinces,
Sanibonani! Dumelang! Avhuxeni!
We are very happy that this day has finally come, especially at the time when we celebrate October as Social Development Month. This event therefore gives government and older persons the necessary platform to exchange ideas on how best we can collectively improve the lives of senior citizens for the better. We see this gathering as an important milestone because it is for the first time that an Annual General Meeting of the Forum is attended by so many older persons from all provinces!
This is important to us because we believe that older persons must speak for themselves and talk openly about issues that affect them, and that they must be the ones who collectively give a mandate to the Forum and inform our programmes. Our understanding is that the Forum must be the voice of older persons throughout the country regardless of their geographic location.
As government and the nation at large, we have a responsibility to create a caring environment for vulnerable members of society, including our senior citizens. To us, they remain valuable treasurers who helped shape the free and democratic society we live in today. I know that among us today there are those who stood up against the brutal apartheid regime that denied people basic human rights on the basis of race.
I want to acknowledge the meaningful role that older persons continue to play in all areas of our society- in politics, voluntary and community work, and family life. The reality in many communities is that older persons continue to bear the burden of providing care and support to an increasing number of orphans and vulnerable children, while caring for their own chronically-ill children. They also incur the financial burden that comes with those responsibilities.
It is for this reason that in this new democratic order, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the rights of older persons are promoted and protected. Older persons are the custodians of positive values who continue to shape a better future for our children. We encourage all sectors of society to recognise and appreciate their collective wisdom, skills and experience, which they acquired over the past many years.
It is therefore necessary that we learn from their life experiences as individuals, families and communities. As we grapple with the many social problems facing our country, we must enlist the wisdom of older persons to confront our challenges head-on. It is important to locate the role they can play individually and collectively as their contribution to fight those social ills.
It is a known reality that the poverty situation and the impact of HIV and AIDS have caused serious strain on many families. There are children who end up assuming the responsibilities of caring for their siblings as a result of illness or deaths associated with the HIV pandemic. This unfortunate situation robs the affected children of the appropriate care and support they deserve.
We are aware of the role played by many older persons, in their capacity as grandparents or relatives, to provide care and support to vulnerable children, especially orphans. We want to thank and applaud you for taking care of those children especially at the time when they need you most. As government, we have the responsibility to encourage all members of society to create an environment of care, protection and support for children.
It is for this reason that today we urge older persons to play an active role in communities especially in support of child-headed households. As government, we plan to recruit and train 10 000 Child and Youth Care Workers over the next three years to support children living in child-headed households. We plan to reach out to 1, 4 million children in this regard.
We are already working with our partners in civil society to achieve this, including through the involvement of older persons. Amongst our partners is LoveLife, who help us strengthen support to orphans and vulnerable children through the Gogo Getter Programme. Gogo Getters are part of a network of 500 grandmothers across South Africa, who support orphans and vulnerable teenagers and their younger siblings to develop a sense of purpose and belonging in life.
Their aim is to champion the cause of close to 10 000 young people, to make them feel they belong, keep them at school, assist them to secure access to social security grants, prevent physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and keep them from hunger. Many of these children come from families whose members are infected and affected by HIV and Aids.
We believe that based on their life experiences, older persons have the capacity to make those children feel a sense of belonging. We also believe that older persons can in fact instil positive values in these children, which will keep them focused on things that will build them, such as education. I have no doubt that older persons can reach out to these child-headed households because they know where these households are, in their communities. Generally, the South African Older Persons Forum must help facilitate the role that older persons can play in the affairs of their communities.
They must ensure that older persons are organised across the country, including those in rural areas and informal settlements. The focus should not only be on those who live in old age homes. I make this statement to highlight the reality that older persons who live in communities are alive to the day-to-day challenges on the ground and can play a role in turning the situation around.
Let us therefore accord them the necessary space so that they can play that active role. Importantly, we want older persons to know their rights. We launched the Charter on the Rights of Older Persons in March this year to highlight that older persons’ rights are also human rights. This Charter is inspired by the Older Persons Act. Our view is that older persons must not be taken advantage of or be victimised on the basis of age.
They must never be subjected to any form of abuse, especially secondary abuse wherever they live. As we launched the Charter, we recalled that many of our older people continue to live in poverty, face negative perceptions about ageing, continue to be victimised by merciless criminal elements and worst of all, face abuse, neglect and exploitation sometimes by their very own family members.
The Department of Social Development has a mandate to ensure that we deal effectively with the plight of older persons by creating a framework that empowers and protects them in terms of their rights, status, well-being, as well as safety and security. Amongst other things, we want to protect older persons from loan sharks. We are busy discussing measures that government will undertake to shield senior citizens from unscrupulous business people whose intention is to rob older persons of their old age grants.
We will work with the Forum to protect the rights of older persons. We call on older persons themselves to use the pension money responsibly for the intended purpose – which is to take care of their own needs! Currently, more than two million eligible older persons receive the State Old Age Pension. Research has clearly shown that the provision of old age pensions not only benefits older persons, but that it helps the whole family including their children, and grandchildren.
We are also working towards the universalisation of the Old Age Pension Grant and abolition of the means test. At the recent meeting MINMEC meeting that was held in Soweto we have agreed with South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) that no grant reviews will be conducted between December and January, so as to avoid disrupting the lives of families who rely on social grant as their main source of income.
Other additional measures include assessing the feasibility of state-funded funeral scheme for older persons receiving the Old Age Grant as well the feasibility of conducting grant reviews for older persons above 75 years at home rather than at SASSA pay points.
In conclusion, I must mention that the basis for providing a caring and supportive environment for older persons is guided by the principles associated with active ageing. Active ageing requires a society that enables older persons to be actively involved in all aspects of life in society, including sport. We are happy that you will be participating in the Golden Games over the next few days. We hope that this will provide an opportunity for you to exercise and have fun.
We also hope that you will have a successful Annual General Meeting (AGM), whose outcomes will be in the interest of older persons in South Africa. Amongst other issues, I hope that the Forum will have an inclusive constitution that also takes into account older persons in rural areas and their interests.
Like I mentioned earlier, older persons must speak for themselves and be the ones who give a mandate to the Forum. We want them to understand the role they should play in communities. This can happen if we establish local committees of the forum at local level with clear roles and responsibilities. In this way, we will allow older person a platform to occupy space in communities for them to help find solution to problems facing society.
I wish you a successful AGM.
Issued by: Department of Social Development
20 Oct 2011
[ Top ]