State of the Nation Address: Minister of Social Development’s briefing

Social Development

12 February 2008
Chairperson: Adv T Masutha (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Minister of Social Development, Dr Zola Skweyiya, addressed Members on the impact of the President’s State of the Nation Address on the work of the Committee. He set out the priorities for Social Development, including the comprehensive social security net, a targeted and impeccable approach to eradicating poverty and unemployment, establishment of a mandatory retirement fund and ensuring coverage of low income groups. He said that a specific priority was the welfare of children, the development of services to deal with child poverty, and strengthening of collaboration with other departments involved in the provision of Early Childhood Development. The Child Support Grant was to be gradually extended up to the age of 18, the pensionable age must be equalised and set at 60 years, and a coordinated national drug campaign must be intensified to combat drug abuse. Strategic themes were identified by the Department to drive policy interventions, and these were described in detail.

Members raised concerns around grants and assistance to children once they reached eighteen, focusing on those in institutions, issues around registration of children’s births, the difficulties with the Department of Home Affairs, the registration processes for facilities offering care and development, the need to address pensions and the need to discuss matters also with other departments.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed and expressed appreciation to the Minister of Social Development, Hon Dr Zola Skweyiya, for his briefing. This meeting was critical as it would be charting the way forward for the rest of the year, and possibly for the balance of this term of Parliament, and it was therefore critical to interact on how to move forward.

The Chairperson briefly summarised the programme for the year and noted that the Committee was making progress in implementing some of the decisions of the last meeting. The Committee had, in relation to the study tour, agreed that it wanted to expand exercising of oversight beyond the borders of this country wherever the work of the department extended beyond the borders. It was working on a proposal and was also hoping to get outside sponsorship. The Substance Abuse Bill was one of the pressing legislative tasks. The Committee would be looking at how other countries were dealing with substance abuse and an association promoting prevention of abuse of alcohol and tobacco would support the department in its planning of the overseas study tours. The research unit was focusing on countries outside Europe, which had the greatest challenges, including Uruguay and Brazil.

Impact of the State of the Nation address 2008: Minister of Social Development’s address
Dr Skweyiya stated that the Committee would likely need a Task Team to deal with issues arising from the State of the Nation Address, because there were going to be a lot of tasks, many expectations from their constituencies, and the Committee would be expected to fulfil what had been promised. He stressed that it was a pleasure to be associated with the work of this Committee and expressed his gratitude for its support and cooperation.

The Minister said that, looking at the demands placed on this Committee by the Polokwane conference and the President’s State of the Nation address, it was important to understand the way in which the whole issue of poverty in our society was raised, and how poverty affected our society and individual members and households. The following priorities had emerged as imperatives for Social Development:

1. A comprehensive social security network must provide a targeted and impeccable approach in eradicating poverty and unemployment;

2. A mandatory retirement fund must be established and ensure that retirement provisions covered low-income groups.

3. The welfare of children must be prioritised and services developed to deal with child poverty.

4. The Department of Social Development (DSD)must strengthen collaboration with the Department of Education (DOE) and other departments involved in the provision of Early Childhood Development (ECD).

5. The Child Support Grant should gradually be extended up to the age of 18.

6. Measures should be taken that the pensionable age should be re-examined and reviewed and be set at sixty years.

7. A coordinated national drug campaign must be intensified to combat substance abuse.

The Department had identified seven strategic themes to drive policy and programme interventions in line with the priorities discussed during the State of the Nation Address on 8 February 2008. Each theme would have a number of areas. The Minister described these as follows:

Tackling Child Poverty
This theme would focus on the implementation of the Integrated Early Childhood Development Plan, implementation of the Children’s Act, gradual and phased extension of the Child Support Grant (CSG) up to the age of 18, and the development of other measures to reduce child poverty, especially for those children over the age of 14. This would be done in partnership with other government departments.

The Minister noted that the media seemed to focus more on the question of extension of the pensions for older men. However, emphasis should rather be on children. The money allocated should ensure that that the current upper limit of 14 for CSG should be increased as fast as possible, because he understood the effects such phasing in had on children.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) must also be considered. There was a tendency within communities not to register children until they were three or four, which was too late. The Committee should collaborate with the Department of Health to ensure that children were registered at the hospitals when they were born, and ensure that Home Affairs provided the necessary documents before the mother left, to enable the child to get his or her grant in the first months. If that were done they would be able to track the children and provide them with the necessary assistance and grants. 

The Minister also stressed that there was enormous poverty in the rural areas, especially the former Bantustans, and he would like the Committee to see the poverty among young children. It was incorrect that this should first be publicised by the media or seen first by foreigners.

Dr Skweyiya emphasised the implementation of the Children’s Amendment Act, which would ensure that the necessary infrastructure and means were in place to ensure that the Act was a reality. It  was for the Portfolio Committee to monitor that whatever the Department was saying was going on was in fact happening.

Development of other measures to reduce poverty for those children over 14 would be done in partnership with other government departments. It was not enough to give those children a grant, there had to be some other way to support them, to give them advice on the questions of health and innoculation, to ensure that each and every child who received a grant also went to an Early Childhood Centre, and also to ensure that the centres were in place and that they received the necessary resources from government and from the private sector to ensure that they were able to work. Money should not be sent back to the Treasury when it could be used much better by our own citizens.

Social Cohesion
This theme would focus on introducing the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse Bill and tackling the growing drug problem. It would also be implementing a campaign to combat substance abuse. This, and alcohol abuse, were a big problem in the Western Cape, including in the schools, although it affected every other Province also, and the Bill must be moved through Parliament as fast as possible. Social crime prevention measures would also be taken.

Youth Development
Under this programme, the focus would be to ensure implementation of a programme to engage young people to be a part of the new active citizenry. This would involve the development of a framework to implement the Masupa-tsela Youth Pioneer Programme. Empowerment and integration of youth would be achieved through up-scaling of the National Youth Service Programme.  Since 1994 the schools were turning out a number of matriculants who were unable to get jobs and this was leading to an increase in crime within our society. The youth programmes would work closely with young people, and guide them. The Youth Pioneer Programme would work with young children, both in schools and in the crèches, in conjunction with the Departments of Sports and Recreation (SRSA), Education and the Department of Health (DOH) to ensure that the things that were not being offered were put in place. There would also be a focus on ensuring that children attending school would get one or two meals. The resources and funding were available, but were being wrongly used. Food should be provided by the local people. The Committee should look into these matters,  especially in the rural provinces, such as Limpopo and Mpumalanga. In Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State the situation was pathetic. It should be ensured that the money allocated by the Department of Education was used for the benefit of the children.

Strategies to prevent poverty amongst adults and older persons
This programme would focus on the equalisation of the pension age between men and women. This would require changes to the Social Assistance Amendment Bill. However, the Minister said that he had some difficulty in regarding this as a top priority, when the priorities for children were not being met.
There would be introduction of a mandatory retirement scheme, with the associated schemes for risk benefits such as disability and survivors’ benefits. This was work ongoing on within the DSD and National Treasury. Perhaps the DSD team should brief the Committee, because they were talking with the private sector and with unions. The social assistance grants would be used to improve access to economic opportunities and other services for families and households.

Civil Society Support and Strengthening of Communities.
The focus of this programme would be on development f a framework for holistic community development, to better define suitable approaches and products. There would be targeted strengthening of civil society capacity, through grant funding via the National Development Agency (NDA) and also by improvement of the Non-Profit Organisations Act. The programme would also finalise a pilot project to link beneficiaries of social grants to sustainable livelihoods.

Dr Skweyiya stressed the important role of civil society. DSD did not necessarily have funds to implement everything. The non government organisations (NGOs) and faith based organisations assisted, particularly in identifying fraud and following up on issues, and government should work with them.

Governance and Institutional Development
This theme would involve activities to improve service delivery capacities and accountability throughout the National and Provincial Departments, South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the NDA. It also included initiatives to develop the sector’s human resources and systems to improve service delivery. Key projects would include amendments to the SASSA Act to facilitate the establishment of a Board; which had finally been agreed upon, to consider, full-time, the work that SASSA was doing. There would be amendments to the NDA Act to increase its Board size and to clarify its policy role and capacity. There would be implementation of the Human Resources Development Strategy for the National and Provincial Departments. An Appeals Board would be established. The functions of the Heads of Social Development (HSD) and MinMECs would be changed to facilitate better accountability on agreed service delivery priorities.
Regional and international solidarity and engagements.
The key priority in this area would be the post conflict, reconstruction and development work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Minister noted that whilst no one of these themes located work specifically on anti-poverty, the overall work would contribute positively to the further development of the anti-poverty strategy. The Department would continue to be part of the joint team from the social cluster and the economic cluster to finalise work on the strategy. DSD and Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG) would establish an ‘anti-poverty war room’ that would seek to develop and track programmes geared at reducing poverty.

Dr Skweyiya continued that the President had been making international work agreements in quite a number of countries. Around eight or nine African countries had come to DSD to look at the type of work that they ought to be doing in their countries, and DSD in South Africa was helping them to set up their own departments to deal with social development. Currently the work was focusing on the reaction of other African countries to work on the borders of Cote d’Ivoire. There was a lot of pressure on the people and Department of South Africa to be involved in the work that had to be done. Ten countries had spent time in DSD to see how it worked on issues that affected the poor, especially children and the elderly. The DSD had been able to maintain the team that was in the DRC, and were also hoping to send people to Sudan, Burundi, and Rwanda. It might be useful for Parliament to see the state of affairs in other countries and to see the work that DSD and other departments were doing there. South Africans should appreciate the pressure that this government was under.

The question of social upliftment had attracted the attention of quite a number of countries including the European Union (EU), Latin America and the United States (USA). DSD had been unable to go to all these places, but had to explain how it had managed to provide military presence. He thought as far as the United Nations (UN) and the EU were concerned, they had taken South Africa as a model, suggesting that close cooperation and development would help Malawi, Zambia and other countries. Border controls and assistance to those infected with HIV was being done by the EU and USA, and South Africa was cooperating more with Latin America, especially Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, and Argentina. Unfortunately Members of Parliament had not participated in workshops with those countries.

The Chairperson interjected that the Committee had been invited to one workshop and had attended.

Dr Skweyiya suggested that the Committee should talk to the Director General of the Department as some workshops were organised by the University of Pretoria.

Dr Skweyiya added that DSD also worked with UNESCO and many other agencies doing this type of work, which had never been done by any developing country before. There was increasing involvement with India, China and Russia.

The Department was therefore very active in the work of the international social security aid, but mostly would like to concentrate on Africa. It had a working relationship with UNESCO in Mozambique on social policies. This was not yet a major issue in South Africa but it was big in Europe and the Americas. In the last few weeks there had been a conference at Fort Hare, which was aimed at training people on social problems, which all the MECs had attended. He suggested organising a similar social forum in Cape Town.

The Chairperson expressed the Committee’s gratitude to Dr Skweyiya for his time and input.

Ms I Direko (ANC) also expressed her concern about problems in her province when money was channelled to the school nutrition scheme. She alleged that one certain gentleman seemed to get all the tenders from DSD and DOE. School nutrition had changed drastically with the recent approach whereby the providers had to provide stoves, pots and equipment when the locals were asked to cook. Those who had a passion for community work were not given the opportunity, and it made her very angry that the tenders went to rich people, who were driving expensive vehicles, while the children remained poor. She asked that this be investigated to find out whether the food actually got to the rural areas.

The Chairperson concurred that the whole exercise was around interaction.

Ms Direko expressed her appreciation to the Minister as he had clearly stated his commitment to make a difference to the lives of children and the welfare of the population. DSD had a passion for the ordinary people, and the Minister set a good example. The efforts he put in were appreciated and she hoped he would enjoy the fruits of his hard work and that he would continue in this position.

The Chairperson explained that the vote of thanks had been given at the beginning and not at the end, because of pressure of time to conclude.

Ms H Bogopane-Zulu looked forward to one day having a Department of Public Service, because getting a problem resolved was so exhausting. There were problem areas created by SASSA and she was trying to respond to the challenges. The Committee would need to resolve how issues would be dealt with and policies implemented.

Ms D Morobi (ANC) was concerned with those over eighteen, pointing out that until age 18 the child was monitored by a social worker, but she wondered what happened after that.

Dr Skweyiya responded that this was a big burden and the DSD was still concerned about these issues. A person of over-18 was considered to be a major, and should be prepared to go and work. In European countries, children, even whilst still at school, were taught that they should develop a skill and work or go to university. There was some reluctance to enter apprenticeships or a trade. Everyone wanted to go to university. In South Africa that was not affordable; even in the USA that was not possible. South Africa however had inherited a colonial and apartheid tradition that suggested that each and every person should get a degree. After getting that degree they found they were not able to get employment. Many graduates might have chosen the wrong profession because they were not properly advised. That was the problem with the education system. He suggested that young adults should be prepared to be able to stand alone, and be able to go to work and earn a living, giving them the dignity of work.

The Chairperson felt that was the job of the Education Department.

Dr Skweyiya responded that without skills this could not be done. 

The Chairperson said this issue would come up again when discussing inter departmental collaboration. The Strategic Planning Workshop last week had emphasised inter sectoral collaboration, saying that it was not possible to confine the Department and the Committee to what was pure social development, but they had to see what Education and Labour were doing in order to begin to promote other issues. DSD was the anchor point, the glue that held it all together when the other systems were not working. If people were poor, or were not being fed, they would come back to the DSD.

Dr Skweyiya understood that was what the President said. The issue was however quite clear. A child was defined as such until the age of eighteen. There was no way that could change. The DSD would try to ensure that the CSG was gradually phased in for all children up to eighteen, so that it would not be a burden to the Treasury. DSD had certain obligations to children, which he stressed again should take precedence over the issues such as pension rights for those at sixty, and further work must be done on the Children’s Amendment Act.

The Chairperson added that the draft of the Act provided that the increasing of age be done through amendment not of the Act but through the regulations, not through the Parliamentary process and public hearings.

Dr Skweyiya said that should be done urgently.

Mr Selwyn Jehoma, Deputy Director General, DSD, responded that the issue of whether children, once they reached eighteen, must leave shelters and other places of safety was discussed the day before with the heads of Social Development. It was said that there was a need to look at integrated alternative care beyond eighteen, because such persons had nowhere to go, and DSD was responsible to ensure some services were provided.

Ms J Semple (ANC) noted that some countries started with grants when the mother was pregnant, and she queried whether nutrition was part of the Department of Health.

The Minister responded that the question of a maternal nutrition programme had been looked into, and would depend on what the Department said. It was not planned for just yet, but it was clear that development of the foetus did depend on good nutrition.

Ms Semple noted that she was involved in an organisation that had been battling with the registration process for months because the Department was only now dealing with applications made in August.

Mr Jehoma responded that in regard to registration, the Regulations noted that issues to be taken into account included the safety of the environment and protection of children, and thus the DSD had to consider health and safety, nutrition and whether a property was registered. A step-by-step guide was followed.  and therefore the steps to go through in terms of registration of the child would need to look into the various aspects including health and safety of the site itself, nutrition, but also in terms of the property whether it was a registered property. A step-by-step guide was followed. Registration of the site was one of the areas where collaboration was needed between the three departments of DSD, Department of Health and DPLG.

The Chairperson noted that DSD should facilitate in such inter-departmental tasks. He asked Mr Jehoma and Member compare notes outside of the meeting in regard to a particular facility, and said that could also be followed up by correspondence.

Ms Semple also questioned the targeting in the address of households with children over the age of fourteen.

An official from the DSD responded that there were issues around the process of identification of households, but this identification was  taking place through the Department of Local Government and the provision of basic services. Beyond that, there would be a process, led by DSD, to not only geographically identify poor households, but also to identify the people in the household, and their  ability to maintain themselves. In the Eastern Cape this has been happening for a while. In the North West, Free State and Gauteng, the household details were taken with a view to investigating whether these households could maintain themselves.

The Chairperson intervened that the matters being looked at during the budgetary hearing process included an examination of capacity and inadequate funding. The provinces should be able to secure funding from the national agreed allocations. He had raised this matter with Mr Doidge, noting that the budgetary process did not always take account of the lack of capacity, and he hoped that Treasury would come up with a solution to make this possible. He had said they should go forward with it and try to be as innovative as possible.

Ms J Semple (DA) raised the issue of children being registered at birth.

An official from the DSD responded that sometimes there were cultural reasons why the mothers of children might not wish them to be registered at birth.

Ms X Makasi (ANC) was concerned with the problem of teenage pregnancy. She referred to the Children’s Bill and asked what mechanisms were in place to address this problem in the community.

Ms Bogopane-Zulu noted, in regard to the age of majority at eighteen, that perhaps young people should be “matched” to the NGOs when they were still seventeen, to identify in advance those who would not have anywhere else to go, and to think about creative ways in which they might be able still to say in shelters, even if there was some cost to be paid.

Ms Bogopane Zulu noted that there was a need to really address the issues of poverty, rather than trying to patch up the gaps.

Ms Bogopane Zulu noted that there was also a desperate need for old-age pensions.

Mr L Nzimande (ANC) noted that it was part of the Portfolio Committee’s work to unpack and highlight issues. He asked for an indication whether the matters of fraud mentioned in Kwazulu Natal at the end of 2007 were being worked upon.

Mr Nzimande noted that he worked in a rural constituency. One of his current cases concerned families fighting over rights to a child. The father was claiming that the child should not be registered using the mother’s name; these were issues that had to be dealt with.

Ms Nzimande wished to make a point on community development and strengthening the NGOs. The NGOs were not doing their job and were battling, and they were not affecting the “poverty pocket”. DSD must pay attention if it was conscientious of its responsibility to deal with poverty.

The Chairperson pointed out that it was only the Minister who could say what needed to be done; officials must say what they were going to do.

Mr Nzimande was also concerned that several issues had been raised with officials, but they now seemed to be speaking to other projects.

The Chairperson explained that interaction had been scheduled with the Minister of Health and the Committee would then focus on those programmes.

Mr Nzimande continued that when talking of social cohesion, alongside the draft legislation on substance abuse, there was a need to pay attention to the role of parents. The Minister continuously tried to instil the values of building the family. Social cohesion was not just for young people, but also for strengthening the parents. The dynamics of today meant that often parents did not have the capacity to engage with their own children.

The Chairperson said the Committee could not do justice to any of these issues in this meeting. The Committee was going to have dedicated interaction and would move in a very elaborate direction.

Ms Direko noted that, although she was speaking under correction, she had heard that some of the teachers in the former homelands were receiving less pension than others.

Mr Fezile Makiwane, CEO of SASSA, raised the question of the workings of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), which was an issue worrying the whole of the country.

He noted that in relation to issues of Early Childhood Development and youth, DSD should be ensuring that those who were entitled to the payments would receive the necessary payments right through and including school, up to the time they obtained jobs. He hoped that DSD and the Department of Education would come up with a plan to ensure the youth were really skilled.

He noted that the question of pension was quite a difficult issue. There was a Bill. He noted that it was difficult for people in the rural areas. It was expensive for them to travel into the cities to obtain an ID. They suffered from lack of clean water and lack of electricity. The Minister really should be applying affirmative action. He noted that several people had approached him on issues that really should be explained by DPLG. He believed that the Committee needed to consider also ways of dealing with related matters. People were demanding pensions, and asking  why did others get and not them. DSD had done a study, but it would not be released before the budget speech. There were some suggestions about increasing thresholds, and taking account of inflation.

Ms Direko added that it was an anomaly that if one owned a house one would not qualify. However, the bricks of the house would not feed the children.

The Minister said that had not changed since the apartheid regime.

Dr Skweyiya touched on the question of the NDA. He pointed out that it was a statutory organisation. There had been a vast improvement in their work, and most were professional, but one had to consider their budget, which was remarkably small. In some provinces they did not have offices, simply because it had originally been formed by NGOs in the Western Cape, Natal and Gauteng. In other provinces there was not even a welfare office. If there was a police station in towns, then there should also at least be a welfare office. That was a question of infrastructure budgeting, and there must be budgets at Public Works level, but the time factors for Public Works must be taken into account..

The Chairperson noted that after the budget speech the Committee would be interrogating the budget and would schedule another interaction with the Minister. The rule of engagement this time around was clearly that the Minister would state what the policy objectives were, and the committee’s role was to implement them. It was agreed that further questions stand over for another meeting.
The meeting was adjourned


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