Civil Society impatient with social security reforms

The Black Sash, on the commemoration of its sixtieth year of existence, in collaboration with Action Aid, has set the pace by calling a meeting of civil society around the need to address the gaps in South Africa's social security system.

The 3-day seminar in August, entitled, "20 years of Social Security Progress, and Setting the agenda for the next 20 years", may just be a turning point in an outstanding debate on social security, by an institution that challenged the Apartheid government.

The Director of the Black Sash, Lynette Maart, at the opening of the Seminar, acknowledged that "South Africa has made significant progress in advancing the right of access to social security in terms of the Constitution."

She argued, however, that not enough has been done to address the plight of the poor. Current economic and social developments have made the need for State intervention particularly urgent. In this regard she stated that "in fact we have had 9 years of policy hiatus." There are delivery challenges and gaps in social security in the context of extreme poverty, inequality and unemployment. "We have not yet even met the standards of our Brics Partners", she asserted.

The Seminar kicked off with an opening address by Professor Vivienne Taylor, Chair of the Taylor Committee that proposed the introduction of the Basic Income Grant, known as the BIG. The seminar was attended by several civil society organisations, Action Aid, an international NGO, and invitees from government in particular the Department of Social Development (DSD), the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), and the National Treasury.

Professor Govindjee, from the School of Law, NMMU University (Eastern Cape), made a poignant presentation, indicating that South Africa has a significant gap in providing social security to people between the ages of 18 and 59, and that government's recent ratification of the International Convention on the Rights to Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), is a significant development.
Prof Govindjee argues that in the light of non-provision of social assistance to people aged 18 to 59, the South African government is obliged to provide a plan for employment creation, or for the right to work.

The voices of young women came through very strongly at the seminar. They told of their pain at unlawful deductions being made from SASSA accounts, the destitution they face when grants stop when they are 18, and their disappointment at the lack of government support after matric.

According to Michelle Festus from ActionAid, the Seminar seeks to develop a plan to engage government and civil society to set a social security agenda or plan of progressive realization for the next 20 years. Failing that, civil society will begin a process of mobilization, including approaching the courts to achieve a comprehensive social security system.