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South Africa Social Protection Grants: A Model For Africa

South Africa Social Protection Grants: A Model For Africa

“Despite difficulties, South Africa’s social protection grants should be regarded as a success, and offer useful lessons for other African countries.”

That’s according to David Neves, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Poverty Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of Western Cape, speaking at a workshop organised by the Economic Policy Research Institute who hosted a study tour in Cape Town recently by representatives of international NGO Save the Children and Action Against Hunger from Nigeria.

Neves, a researcher on poverty and rural livelihoods, described South Africa’s challenges and successes over the country’s century-long history of distributing social grants. South Africa offers useful lessons for the African continent on how to extend social welfare grants to the poor, due to its wealth of experience in managing this public welfare initiative.

“South Africa’s system of social welfare started in the 1920s, modeled after the classic European system for whites,” he said. “However, small numbers of ‘native’ (black) Africans were included by the mid-twentieth century, and racial parity was incrementally introduced in the dying days of apartheid.”

Currently, South Africa has over 17 million welfare grant beneficiaries. Of these, almost 12 million are child support grants of R380 monthly, followed by higher value Old Age (3.3. million) and Disability (1.1. million) Grants. Various other grants, with fewer recipients, include the foster and care dependency, and the war veterans grants.

Neves’ research illustrates the key role of state social grants in sustaining networks of social reciprocity, informal self-employment and subsistence agriculture.

He described how many African countries had been running pilot projects over the past decade, including Nigeria.

Reflecting on South African successes, he described how social grants reduced child malnutrition and stunting, and improved school enrollment rates. He further suggested that the receipt of social grants facilitated empowerment as beneficiaries carefully planned how to spend their grants.

Emphasising these outcomes, Neves reflected on lessons for other African countries.

“While some of South Africa’s success in distributing social grants was facilitated by its advanced banking infrastructure, this is increasingly possible to replicate through electronic payment systems in poorer countries,” Neves said.

However, he identified the challenge of developing successfully, collecting the tax revenues required for emerging systems of social welfare in a nationally sustainable manner.