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Social development concerns everyone

The role played by the Department of Social Development in helping to create a better South Africa is bigger than the provision of social grants and food parcels to vulnerable citizens.

According to Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu, social development affects all South Africans and is about the wellbeing of every citizen. It is about enabling every citizen to sustain their own lives and the communities they live in.

Against the backdrop of the country commemorating Social Development Month in October, the Minister explained her department’s mandate, which is to ensure protection against vulnerability by creating an enabling environment for the provision of comprehensive, integrated and sustainable social development service. It comprises three key pillars – community development, social welfare and social security.

“I am excited to be leading this department … This is an opportunity for me to contribute towards the wellbeing of our communities. Every South African needs to see value in themselves in order to extend those values to other people and create a better nation,” she said.

Working with stakeholders

To prepare for her new role, the Minister examined the department’s 25-year review to understand how far the department has fared in delivering on its mandate.

She discovered that most of the challenges facing the department emanated from it not working closely enough with its stakeholders.

To turn things around, the Minister said she has already introduced a portfolio approach, which focuses on working more closely with the department’s agencies – the National Development Agency (NDA) and South African Social Security Agency (SASSA).

The NDA contributes towards the eradication of poverty and its causes by granting funds to civil society organisations to implement development projects in poor communities and provide services to these communities.

SASSA’s role is to administer social grants to categories of people who are vulnerable to poverty and in need of state support to improve their standard of living.Within her first 100 days in office, she held a meeting with the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of NDA and SASSA and informed them about the need to use a portfolio approach, with the department at the centre of it all.

“Both these agencies get their mandate and finances from the department, so we really need to work together in order to achieve our goals. The two CEOs were both excited about the new approach,” she said.

“In most of the activities that we recently held, we have been participating together to ensure that we start implementing this new approach so that we become one point of service with different responsibilities,” the Minister explained.

She also reminded SASSA that it has a responsibility beyond paying social grants, such as communicating empowering messages to beneficiaries so that those who can are able to get off the social grants grid and earn a decent income.

She said by working together, the NDA will be able to empower young parents who receive child support grants and encourage them to start cooperatives so that they are not solely dependent on social grants.

According to the Minister, the number of social grants beneficiaries increased from just over two million to over 17 million in the past 25 years.

“About 11 million of these beneficiaries are children,” the Minister said.

The high dependence on social grants could be reduced if the country’s economy grows and sustainable cooperatives and small businesses help to create jobs.

Rooting out internal issues

To ensure that her department becomes more effective, Minister Zulu is keeping her ears close to the ground.

She has met with the department’s entire staff twice to find out more about the challenges the staff are facing and to explain the direction the department is moving toward.

“If you want to work well with people, they have to know who you are and what your approach to the task is. I had to accept the task in front of me and appreciate the people who are supposed to help me deliver on it,” she explained.

Collaborating with other departments

Minister Zulu also believes that the success of the department is linked to the efforts made by other departments to improve the lives of citizens.

If departments such as health, education, employment and labour, small businesses, human settlements and others do not increase efforts to deliver basic services, her department will remain heavily burdened, the Minister pointed out.

“We have to ask all other departments if they are doing enough to enable citizens to create jobs for themselves, have access to services and help government grow the economy,” she said.

“If other departments are not delivering basic services, it means more people will be vulnerable and dependent on things like social grants because the economy will not be enabling them to sustain their own lives,” she explained.

Combating GBVF

The Minister said for South Africa to win the fight against Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF), every citizen must play a role because this is not a fight to be tackled by government alone.

“I am of the view that the nation needs to take a step back and deal with this problem individual by individual, family by family, house by house, and street by street… We need to go down to the basics. Violence is sitting somewhere in the homes in person to person relationships, and to get to that level of relationships you need to use other methods besides marching – although protests have their own impact,” the Minister said.

It is part of the department’s responsibility to mobilise communities to fight the scourge of violence, particularly GBVF.

She added that community leaders must play a role in getting residents to actively deal with social ills affecting them.

“When church leaders and other community leaders speak to their fellow members about issues they grapple with on a daily basis, they speak from first-hand experience. They are there in those specific communities when problems like violence arise and they can come up with tangible solutions,” she said.

Reflecting on government efforts to deal with GBVF, the Minister said the Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP) was established in 1998. It is a partnership between government, civil society organisations, volunteers, academics and research institutions.

Led by the Department of Social Development, the VEP offers support to survivors of violence and abuse.

In 2012, an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Violence against Women and Children was also established. It is tasked with investigating the root causes of violence against women and children with the aim of developing a comprehensive strategy to address the scourge of violence.

In addition, the national Summit on GBVF took place last year and produced a declaration which entailed deliverables that must be taken forward and implemented in dealing with the crisis of GBVF.

An Interim Steering Committee on GBVF was formed, with the mandate to draft a National Strategic Plan (NSP) Framework and establish a National Multi–Sector GBVF Council. The department is part of the national consultation process with other stakeholders on the draft NSP for GBVF.

Tackling social ills

The Minister also believes that the country needs more social workers who will play a massive role in helping to address the current social ills facing the country, including alcohol and drug abuse affecting the youth.

She said she had recently signed off a Drug Master Plan that was developed to address alcohol and drug abuse. The plan will be presented to Cabinet soon.

When time comes for the plan to be implemented, the Minister said she will insist on an intergovernmental and coordinated approach because it cannot be the sole responsibility of the department.

“Justice and Correctional Services has to play its role, the police have to play their role, and Intelligence has to play its role. The biggest issue around drugs is to catch the masters who are manufacturing these drugs just as much as we want to catch those who are distributing them,” she said.

“The social workers will play a huge role in providing counselling and offering support to drug abusers or addicts who need rehabilitation. If we do not address issues like alcohol and drug abuse we will fail in our efforts to deal with other social ills in our communities,” the Minister cautioned.

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