Right to age with dignity and respect - CAPE ARGUS (City Late) 20 Oct 2011

ON the occasion of the launch of the Charter on the Rights of Older Persons at Freedom Park in Tshwane on 28 March 2011, the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini said the Charter reaffirms the governments response and commitment to issues relating to senior citizens. "This is another important step in our endeavours to build a caring society. We deliberately chose to officially launch the Charter here today during the Human Rights Month to highlight that older persons' rights are human rights too.

"By launching this Charter at this venue and during this Human Rights Month, we are reaffirming government's commitment to human rights obligations and enhancing engagements on human rights issues. "In commemorating the Human Rights Day, President Zuma emphasized that a society that respects fundamental human rights is a nation that is safer, more resilient, productive and stable. "From the outset, I would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution that older persons continue to play in all areas of our society- in politics, voluntary and community work, and family life. "It is my firm belief that our older persons must continue to live purposeful and meaningful lives. Old age should be a time of new freedom, which makes the launch of this Charter here at the Freedom Park more relevant," said Dlamini. Unfortunately, in today's materialist world, much of the discussions today surrounding older persons centre on the so-called "burden of an ageing population", according to Dlamini, "How we treat our older persons today will set the tone for how we ourselves will be treated when we grow old. More importantly, it will tell the world the kind of society that we are.

"My wish, as we celebrate the launch of the South African Charter on the Rights of Older Persons, is for our society to always have respect, compassion and affection for our older persons." Dlamini informed that the development of quality services for older persons continues to be a priority of the government. "The overarching aim of our government policy is to help older persons to remain at home and in their communities for as long as possible. Where this is not feasible, for whatever reason, then we help ensure access to high quality and safe long-term residential care.

'The government's objective of continued development of community-based services for older persons is reflected in the Older Persons Act (Act No 13 of 2006). "The Act put particular emphasis on community-based facilities for older persons, promotes high standards of quality care and services in all residential care settings." Dlamini said the main objective of the Older Persons Act is to: Maintain and promote the status, well-being, safety and security of older persons 4.5. Recognize the skills and wisdom of older persons k Promote participation of older persons in community activities "The Act provides a framework aimed at the empowerment and protection of older persons, and the promotion and maintenance of their socio-economic status.

"As a caring government, we are determined to ensure that as people grow older, they enjoy a life of fulfilment, health, security and continue to actively participate in the economic, social, cultural and political life of our society. "As Minister of Social Development, I am committed to working in partnership with civil society organisations such as the South African Older Persons Forum and Black SASH to improve the quality of care and services for older persons. "My aim is to ensure that the rights of older persons are realised, and that older persons receive the maximum support and encouragement to enhance their lives. The Charter on the Rights of Older Persons sets the direction for future policies, programmes and services for older persons in our country.

"Today, as we launch the Charter on the Rights of Older Persons, we recall the fact that too many of our older people continue to live in poverty, face negative perceptions about ageing, continue to be victimized by merciless criminal elements and worst of all, face abuse, neglect and exploitation sometimes by their very own family members. "The reality in most of our communities is that older persons continue to bear the triple burden of providing care and support to an increasing number of orphans and vulnerable children, caring for their own chronically-ill children and facing the financial burden with limited resources. "We have all heard of horrifying stories of the abuse and neglect of older people within their own families and in residential facilities. By launching this Charter here today, we collectively commit that we will not tolerate such atrocities being committed against our older persons."

Dlamini said as a country, we can never boast of our freedom while senior citizens who fought hard for this freedom, continue to suffer and do not enjoy all of the rights enshrined in our Constitution. The abuse of our older persons — including financial abuse by unscrupulous business people — is of concern to us all. The Department of Social Development will continue to work closely with the South African Older Persons Forum and other agencies such as Black SASH to ensure that the best possible measures are in place to protect our vulnerable older persons. "As we launch this Charter, I commit myself and the Department of Social Development to continue to tackle all forms of abuse against our older persons.

"I would like to reiterate that as government we are determined to ensure that our senior citizens grow old with dignity and continue to make huge contributions to their families and communities. "For this reason, our government has over the last fifteen years intensified and devoted its attention to the human rights of older persons. 'Through the Older Persons Act and the Charter, we want to make sure that the voice of the older persons, the social and economic issues affecting them are not marginalised but are considered and taken on board when policies are planned and implemented.

"Given the foregoing circumstances, it is without question that the interests of older persons need to be at the heart of government's development programmes, if we are to successfully focus on the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised members of our society. The objective of the Charter is to reaffirm our commitment to promoting awareness and understanding of human rights, particularly the rights of our senior citizens. "Older persons deserve to have their rights realised and their specific needs met so that they can continue to live their lives in dignity and make a contribution to our society" Dlamini said since 1994 the eradication of poverty among older persons has been, and still remains a fundamental aim of the government.

"In this regard we have taken necessary measures to ensure that the particular needs of older persons are specifically addressed in government programmes. "As a country we can be proud of the role our government has and continue to play in protecting and promoting the human rights of older persons. We have taken steps to enhance the financial adequacy of our senior citizens. "To date, more than two million eligible older persons receive Older Persons Grant. Research has clearly shown that the provision of old age pension not only benefits older persons, but that it helps the whole family- children, grandchildren and other members in their community. 'Through the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, we promote active ageing, so that our seniors lead a full and meaningful life. All provinces participate in the annual Golden Games which encourage older persons to take charge of their ageing and to be in control of their health and wellbeing. This is part of our campaign to promote healthy lifestyles.

'We have introduced the intergenerational solidarity programmes at community level to promote social cohesion and combat social isolation of older persons. "As part of our commitment to the Millennium Development Goal- Goal 1 of halving poverty by 2015, we have introduced Age Equalization in respect of Old Age Grant. Through all these measures we are making good progress to meet the needs of our ageing population. "Our view is that every effort must be made to enable people to live healthy, active, fulfilling lives in their own homes and communities for as long as possible:' Dlamini said one of the biggest challenges in our country, which is a major contributor to old-age poverty is that the majority of our people retire with very insufficient savings. It is for this reason that our government has undertaken a comprehensive reform of the social security and retirement provisions.

'This we believe is the first step towards rectifying the current policy gaps with regard to retirement and expanding the social security system. Through these reforms, we intend to lay a foundation for a retirement system that will resonate with the needs of the majority of South Africans. "I would like to reassure you of our government's commitment to our older persons who have contributed and continue to contribute so much to our society. I look forward to continuing to work with you all to ensure that our country remains a caring society in which we can all age with dignity and respect." Minister of Social Development, honourable Bathabile Dlamini hands out blankets and once-off social relief of distress grants to Diepsloot residents who were victims of floods that swept the country earlier this year.