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Social grants a lifeline to the needy

Written by Gabi Khumalo
After spending almost 20 years as a domestic worker, Nompumelelo Mchunu* from Tembisa was looking forward to retiring at the age of 60.

She would take it easy, knowing that her four children would have long completed school and they’d be supporting themselves.

Little did she know that at the age of 75, she would still be playing the role of a parent - only this time, she is looking after her six grandchildren, who lost their parents due to HIV related illnesses. Her only surviving son, aged 46, is also unemployed.

Mchunu says the picture would be very different were it not for government’s grant for older persons and the child support grant she receives every month. With these she is able to take care of her family.

“The money [grant] will never be enough due to the high cost of living, but I’m so grateful to our government with the little we get.

“My kids left me with nothing to support their children, but thanks to these grants, we are surviving,” Mchunu says.

Through both the older persons and child support grants, her eldest granddaughter managed to complete Grade 12.

“My goal is to see them get an education and become fi independent, instead of relying on government to support them.”

She still remembers a time when people her age used to receive half of what they currently receive in grants.

“I can only imagine how people in the same situation like me survived then. Imali yeqolo yayingakakhushwa [there was no child support grant] and that’s why we must be thankful for the changes we’ve seen since 1994. I wouldn’t have survived without government’s assistance.”

Although Mchunu acknowledges that there are some areas in which government can improve, she urges people not to forget where they come from.

“So much has happened to change people’s lives. Slowly but surely, things will be perfect. We need to be patient.”

Securing social stability

Social grants remain the cornerstone of government’s key programmes to fight the poverty afflicting children, people with dis- abilities and older persons.

Since 1994, the social grants system has expanded from 2.7 million beneficiaries to over 15 million.

Among government’s achievements post 1994 is the extension of social grants, where the child support grant was added to support parents and guardians in need.

When it started, only children below the age of seven qualified for such a grant. This was expanded to children below the age of 14 and to date, qualifying parents with children below the age of 18 are now benefiting from the grant.

Another noted development in social grants since 1994 includes lowering the qualifying age for men to receive the older persons grant, from 65 to 60 years.

As from 1 October 2013, government has increased the monetary value of social grants. These include the older persons grant for senior citizens aged 60 to 74, the disability grant and care dependency grant, which increased from R1 260 to R1 270.

The older persons grant for ages 75 and older, and the war veterans grant increased from R1 280 to R1 290.

Other grants, which also increased from October, include the child support grant and the grant-in-aid, both from R290 to R300.

The foster child grant is currently R800.

Multiplying the benefits

During the recent International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Department of Social Development and its entities - the South African Social Security Agency and the National Development Agency - launched the Cooperative Shop Project.

The initiative is aimed at combating poverty by linking social grant beneficiaries (particularly the care givers of children receiving child support grants) and other vulnerable groups to meaningful socio-economic opportunities.

The department and its entities will identify co-operatives that need support, with the intention to develop the skills of the co-operative members to ensure they are able to produce goods of quality.

Social Development Minister Bathabile said the project could be seen as an addition to the grants.

“The primary intention is not to take people out of the grant system but to provide opportunities for grant beneficiaries to supplement their income.

“However, if the project is a success, the members of the cooperatives may well earn enough to support themselves and their families and thus, move out of the social security system,” Dlamini said.

*Name changed to protect grandchildren's identity.

  • The number of South Africans who receive old age grants increased from 1.9 million in 1997 to 2.9 million in 2013.
  • More elderly people now receive an additional grant to pay people who take care of them. The number of people who receive this grant-in-aid increased from 9 183 in 1998 to 75 274 in 2013.
  • The total number of South Africans receiving social grants increased from 3 million in 1997 to 15 million in 2013.

Source: South African Social Security Agency