Older Persons Summit in George | Western Cape Government


Older Persons Summit in George

24 June 2010

Programme Director
The Mayor & Councilliors of Eden District Municipality
Government representatives from all spheres
Members of non-governmental organisations
Older Persons of the Eden/Karoo Region
Ladies & Gentlemen

Good day to you all

Today is undoubtedly, an important day in our endeavours to build social cohesion and a caring society. I am certainly delighted to be part of this occasion - as I have a personal stake in matters of older persons. The theme for this summit is: "Rights of Older Persons" and this is a reminder of our collective responsibility to protect and fulfill the aspirations of our senior citizens.

Our gathering here today is an affirmation of the significant role that older persons play in our society.

On this note, I would like to truly thank the organisers of this event - who worked tirelessly in making it a success. Let me also extend a special word of welcome to older persons from afar as Oudtshoorn, Ladismith, Murraysburg and Prince Albert.

Your presence here is a positive indication that you have heeded our call for active ageing. Each one of you is an ambassador for the rights of older persons and I hope you will recruit more of your peers to join us in years to come. Your presence sends a clear message to us all to embrace ageing in a positive manner.

Older persons are central to the core mandate of the Department of Social Development. Accordingly, we use this day to kick start a number of Older Persons Summits planned for the whole of the Western Cape.

This day gives us an opportunity as a collective to measure ourselves against the ideal of a caring society. Ladies and gentlemen, you will agree with me that a true measure of a caring society is how best it values and protects its senior citizens.

We all know too well that the older persons in this country have made and continue to make an invaluable contribution to all aspects of South African life. There is no doubt that our society benefits enormously from the presence and participation of those who have seen what life has to offer.

A prerequisite for the active involvement of older persons in building social cohesion is recognition that older persons are an integral part of society. Statistics have already established that worldwide, the number of persons aged 60 years or older is estimated to be representing one in every ten persons.

Estimates show that by the year 2050, this figure will rise to one in every five and one in every 3 persons by 2150. According to the 2001 census data, older persons constitute 7.3 % (3.2 million) of the South African population. Some may argue that this number is statistically insignificant because it is marginally lower than the average proportion estimated at 8% and substantially lower as compared to the developed countries where the figure is high as 19%.

However this percentage is higher than the average for Africa, which is estimated at 5%. As is the case worldwide, women (with an estimated 61, 6%) represent the largest number and proportion of older people in South Africa. Older men on the other hand constitute 2.8 % of the population and 38 % of the aged population.

In terms of the overall distribution of older person in South Africa, the largest concentration of older persons is in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape - where the proportions are (11.9%) and (18.0%), respectively.

Coincidentally, these two provinces are predominantly rural and characterised by high levels of poverty. Here in the Western Cape, older persons constitute 8% (approximately 450 000) of the total provincial population.

This reality calls for a concerted effort from all sectors of society to comprehensively address the needs of older persons.

At the same time, we need to build a caring society for all ages - a society that enables older persons to play a more meaningful role and enjoy active ageing.

We recall the fact that too 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, exploitation and abuse - sometimes by their very own family members.

There is no amount of government legislation that will ever begin to fix this problem. This problem is one that can only be addressed by each and every one of us as individuals and as a family. The elderly have so much to share with each and every one of us. The advent of a modern way of life such as rapid urbanisation - coupled with the onset of chronic diseases - has significantly changed our way of life.

Consequently, this has changed the roles of older people in society.

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 at their disposal. We have all heard of horrifying stories of the abuse and neglect of older people within their own families.

We have heard of underhand business practices that defraud older persons of their social grants. I urge all older persons who know of similar practices in this province to report such matters to the social workers, police and relevant authorities. We cannot allow such callous actions to exist in our midst.

Accordingly, government has taken decisive actions to deal effectively with challenges facing the older people. We acknowledge today that despite its short life, democratic South Africa has achieved significant milestones towards improving the status of older persons.

This is in keeping up with the provisions of our Constitution which enshrines the rights of all people in our country to dignity, equality before the law and non-discrimination on the basis of age. Key amongst others, the government has since passed relevant legislation, namely the Older Persons Act No. 13 of 2006.

The Act represents a new developmental approach to ageing which also seeks to keep older persons in their families and communities as long as possible. This approach is holistic, positive and promotes the full participate of older persons in developmental processes, as opposed to viewing them as passive recipients of development programmes.

The Act further promotes representation and active participation in decision making, recognising ageing as a normal phase of life. Thus the Act seeks to maintain and increase the capacity of older persons to support themselves and to contribute to the well being of those around them. Moreover, the Act is aimed at protecting and promoting the well being of older persons, addresses the issues of poverty and the changing role of older persons in society.

The Act encompasses the main pillars of the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, to which South Africa is a signatory.

The Plan is a crucial policy document which provides a framework in respect of issues relating to older persons. At the core of the plan is the promotion of the rights, independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity of older persons.

As a department, we have developed the South African Plan, which is consistent with the Madrid Plan of Action. Among other things, the South African Plan aims to:

  • Eliminate discrimination, financial, psychological and physical abuse and other crimes against older persons, including intergenerational violence
  • Promote intergenerational solidarity with the goal of maintaining and improving social cohesion
  • Promote and implement active ageing programmes, including life-long education and training, and the full participation of older persons in community life
  • Recognise and support the care-giving services provided by grandparents, especially women, to grandchildren, including orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS

This plan is intended to be a living document with annual action plans for government and civil society, with a monitoring and evaluation system to gauge progress. One of the concerns expressed by the NGO sector has been the lack of service standards and proper monitoring and evaluation system regarding services for older persons.

This has resulted in the provision of inferior services and violation of the rights of older persons. Let me assure you we are taking decisive measures to address them.

Key among them is the implementation of the regulations for the Older Persons Act, which are receiving consideration as I speak.

We have also finalised the norms and standards for services to older persons. This will ensure compliance among service providers and that older persons receive quality services that affirm their dignity.

The monitoring and evaluation system will periodically provide us with information necessary to improve service delivery. Pursuant to the social development agenda, the department has embarked on a campaign to popularise the Older Persons Act.

Today is an opportune time to renew our collective commitments made to older persons through the Constitution and the Older Persons Act. Above all, let us give high priority to implementing the Older Persons Act, as we work towards implementing the social development agenda.

There is of course, only so much that government can do - we need partnerships between all sectors of society - from the national government, civil society, local government and the community as a whole - to comprehensively address the needs of our senior citizens.

The family, the community, and the public sector should play complementary roles in providing a continuum of care to older persons. Building a caring society requires that we put the very people that form the foundation of both the family and society - older persons, at the heart of our interventions. Today I urge you to take up the frontline trenches in our continued effort to build a caring society that respect its elders.

In closing, let me take this opportunity to wish you all the best of luck in today's Older Persons summit. I trust that during the course of the day you will have open and frank discussions regarding the needs of older persons in the Eden/Karoo District.

You will also have a lively debate regarding the roles and responsibilities of all Government Departments. Each and every Department needs to play an integral part with the implementation of the Older Persons Act.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to all those who are participating in improving the lives of older persons in our Province. I would like to wish you all and many others the best on this special occasion.

I Thank You.