Tucked away in Gwaba village, a homestead some 36 kilometres from East London, lives the Ndoyana family. Their tale of daily struggle is a microcosm of the hardships encountered by older citizens across the nation.
The matriarch, 84-year-old Nozala Ndoyana, relies heavily on the care provided by her youngest daughter, Pamela. Despite her demanding 12-hour workdays, Pamela diligently cares for her mother, highlighting the strain borne by families across the nation.
“Even though I make her food, she may not think to eat it, and go without food all day,” she confesses. In Pamela’s absence, Nozala often wanders away, emphasising the urgent need for constant care.
Stories like these underpin the broader issues identified in the Human Rights Watch’s 68-page report, This government is failing me too: South Africa compounds legacy of apartheid for older people. The newly-released report criticises the government’s ineffective implementation of the Older Persons Act, legislation designed to safeguard the rights of older individuals and supply community- and home-based care and support services.
“Older people have been overlooked by a government that has neglected their rights,” declares Noma Masiko-Mpaka, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. This sentiment echoes the grim reality for individuals like Nozala, who spent much of their lives under apartheid’s racially discriminative policies, lacking access to quality education and decent work, and subsequently, unable to save for their old age.
A nationwide struggle
It’s not just families like the Ndoyanas feeling the strain. In River Park, Johannesburg, 75-year-old Ben Zolile’s health fluctuates. His failing knees prevent him from accessing a nearby service centre for older people.
“No one comes to my house,” he bemoans, “There are no other services that come to my home.”
Across the country in Dimbaza, Eastern Cape, Nosiphiwo Tetana manages a service centre for older people. She expresses the desperation of the situation: “Every week, every month [older people] come and apply. And we have to turn them away as we can’t overload the budget.”
The struggle to find affordable home-based care is a national problem, exacerbated by the shortcomings of the Grant-in-Aid. The programme, aimed at covering full-time home-based care costs, provides older individuals with R500 per month – a figure less than the R610 daily cost of care, based on the national minimum wage.
Pamela, grappling with the cost of her mother’s care, concedes, “I don’t think I can find someone who can look after her for R500 a month.” Her admission underscores the inadequacy of the programme and the widespread lack of awareness surrounding it.
As Noma Masiko-Mpaka concludes, “The department of social development should allocate sufficient funding to deliver community- and home-based care and support services so that older people can live independently in their homes and communities.”
Amid the stories of the Ndoyana family, Zolile, Tetana, and many others, it’s evident that the dignity and wellbeing of South Africa’s older citizens demand more than just political promises – they require tangible, immediate action.
- The revealing insights and personal narratives in this article were obtained through interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch.