By Morapedi Sibeko and Centi Ngubane

  • In South Africa, March marks Human Rights Month, during which the  Department of Social Development (DSD) and the South African Older Persons Forum (SAOPF) collaborate to advocate for the rights of older persons through dialogue and sports in Mbombela, Mpumalanga.
  • The event will bring together seniors from diverse backgrounds, serving as a reminder of the foundational freedoms and rights in our society, while also rallying for a future that is more inclusive and equitable.
  • Participants will engage in various activities aimed at advancing social justice and human rights, including sporting events such as soccer and athletics, highlighting the importance of physical activity and empowerment in older age.

March is Human Rights Month in South Africa and the Department of Social Development (DSD), in collaboration with the South African Older Persons Forum (SAOPF), will promote the rights of older persons through dialogue and sporting activities in Mbombela, Mpumalanga.

This gathering will unite seniors from diverse backgrounds, serving as a reminder of the fundamental freedoms and rights underpinning our society. It also serves as a rallying call to work towards a future that is more inclusive and equitable.

Participants will enthusiastically indulge themselves in a wide range of activities, all of which are intended to advance social justice and human rights. In the sporting field, seniors will show off their skills in a variety of games, such as soccer and athletics, making age nothing more than a number. They dismiss bias and surpass boundaries with each run, each kick, and each triumph, demonstrating that tenacity has no boundaries.

On the first day, the initiative will unfold through an interactive dialogue wherein older persons will find space and opportunity to participate democratically by independently expressing how they would like to be treated by authorities and society at large. 

The National Older Persons Dialogues will serve as a crucial platform for addressing the challenges faced by senior citizens. These conversations will provide an opportunity for insightful discussions, where the concerns and perspectives of older individuals will be actively listened to and considered. 

Amongst other topics, they will also reflect on the role of Traditional Leadership in the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Older Persons, Family Care and Support.

As the country commemorates Human Rights, the focus shines on the ongoing fight for equality and human dignity as well as the steadfast dedication to advancing social justice and civil rights for everyone. In light of this, DSD has planned an occasion that goes beyond simple festivity by getting together senior citizens to participate in a wide range of athletic pursuits, artistic manifestations, and stimulating conversations. 

There is a profound truth to be found in the laughter of newly formed friendships, in the moments of triumph and camaraderie shared. This truth is that social justice, human rights, and the invaluable contributions of social workers are all intertwined, with each feeding the other in a positive cycle of empowerment and solidarity.

By prioritising the human rights of older persons, the department aims to foster a culture of respect for their rights as outlined in the Constitution. Through the active ageing programme, efforts are made to educate older individuals about their rights and to collaborate with the government to ensure that their rights, concerns, and needs are acknowledged and met.

Statistics South Africa’s publication titled: “The Social Profile of Older Persons, 2017 – 2021, states that between 2002 and 2022, there has been a rise in life expectancy. 

During the State of the Nation Address in February, President Ramaphosa announced that: “Life expectancy has increased from 54 years in 2003 to 65 years in 2023. Maternal and infant deaths have declined dramatically.”

According to the 2022 Census report, the country’s older persons population was estimated at 5.6 million. The 2022 Census report shows an increase in the number of older persons across all provinces, with the highest number of the older population being in Gauteng at 1,4 million and KwaZulu-Natal at 940,000.

This is an indication that South Africa is becoming an ageing society which is not immune from the burden of disease, which can cause disability due to an increase in old age-related chronic diseases. 

In a few decades, the loss of health and life worldwide will be greater from non-communicable or chronic diseases, such as Cardiovascular disease, Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, Cancer, Arthritis, and Diabetes among others.

In South Africa, older persons encounter various challenges, including Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. Additionally, many are deprived of the opportunity to enjoy their old age as they are frequently compelled to care for orphaned and vulnerable grandchildren.

With the theme “Leaving No One Behind during the Decade of Healthy Ageing,” the active ageing programme aims to enhance the quality of life, health, and well-being of older persons. This initiative focuses on fostering dignity, promoting peer social integration, amplifying senior citizens’ voices, and raising awareness about their capacity to engage in dialogue, music, sports, and recreational activities.

Elderly individuals will engage in a variety of sporting activities, including soccer and athletics, as part of the Active Ageing Programme, highlighting the significance of physical activity in promoting overall well-being and vitality in older age.

Ms Mtsweni Tsipane, Premier of Mpumalanga, and all government departments tasked with the implementation of the Older Persons Act will be part of the proceedings. 

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