By Cuma Pantshwa

  • The evolution of social grants in South Africa reveals a complex history marked by discrimination under the apartheid regime, where social assistance was limited and fragmented along racial lines.
  • During President Nelson Mandela’s tenure, significant strides were made with the introduction of the Social Assistance Act, which provided a basic income grant for vulnerable groups. This period also saw a notable increase in welfare spending, reflecting a commitment to addressing social inequalities.
  • Today, South Africa’s social protection system comprises a range of grants aimed at safeguarding families and improving living standards. Testimonies like Sisanda Mhlakaza’s underscore the tangible impact of these grants on individuals and communities, highlighting their role in providing essential support and fostering hope for a brighter future.

The evolution of social grants in South Africa has a complex history. The former government’s social security structures discriminated against black people in the provision and extent of social security grants. During apartheid, social assistance was limited and fragmented, with different programs for different racial groups. 

Under President Nelson Mandela’s administration, the then Minister of Welfare and Population Development, Ms Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, introduced the Social Assistance Act. This act provided a basic income grant for vulnerable groups, including the elderly, disabled, and children. During his administration, the welfare spending increased by 13% in 1996/97 and 1997/98, and by 7% in 1998/99.

Our social protection system is made up of a basket of social grants which serve to protect and bring financial security to many families and contribute towards improving the standard of living of people. Sisanda Mhlakaza, a mother of two in Bizana, Eastern Cape, has been receiving child support since 2006. She shared her views with us, “Firstly, I’m happy that my children are at school because I want them to get an education so they can get a better life because Bizana has many issues. We all wish for more money but I must say that over the years I have made sure that I use the grant money to buy my children uniforms and all the things they need for school. I do not compromise on school essentials! Despite the challenges we face here, I’m really proud of my children; they are doing fine at school. I just wish the Government would support us until a child finishes Matric because some children complete school when they are 19. I’m really thankful; we have a long way to go and I hope my children will find work one day because the youth in Bizana are struggling and turning to substances when they do not find employment.”

Established as an entity of the Department of Social Development in terms of the SASSA Act 9 of 2004 to ensure the effective and efficient administration, management and payment of social assistance, and as enabled by the Social Assistance Act 13 of 2004, SASSA performs a prominent role in poverty alleviation through the provision of social assistance. As the Department of Social Development, supported by other stakeholders, raises awareness of the plight of children and commits to the vision of our founding fathers in echoing during Child Protection Week, “Children are the most vulnerable citizens of our society, and it is our responsibility to ensure their safety and well-being,” some of the benefits and strides made over the years that cannot be taken lightly are the payments of social grants by SASSA. 

Notwithstanding the concurrence of South Africa’s challenges, it is vital to note that before the dawn of democracy in 1994 no South African child had access to any form of social grant. From 2007 to March 2024, SASSA has reached 14 million, 991 thousand, and 888 children. Currently, in April 2024, SASSA spent 7 Billion, 025 Million, and 240 Rand on Child Support Grants. Last year’s matric results show that learners from poorer households continue to improve and qualify for university entrance. For instance, those who receive some form of social grant achieved more than 160,000 distinctions, and more than 200,000 qualified for university entrance. Furthermore, more than 65 percent of the total bachelor passes obtained are learners from no-fee-paying schools.

“Protecting South Africa’s Children 30 years on,” is the theme for Child Protection Week, highlighting The Department of Social Development’s efforts in the proactive measures taken to protect the livelihoods of the most vulnerable.


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