South African Government

Let's grow South Africa together

Social development

Social assistance and security
Reforming the social welfare sector
Role players
Programmes and projects



Cover page of Social Development chapter in Official Guide to South Africa 2018/2019The mandate of the Department of Social Development (DSD) is to provide social protection services and lead government efforts to forge partnerships through which vulnerable individuals, groups and communities become capable and self-reliant participants in their own development.

Other pieces of legislation which define the department’s mandate include the: 

  • Non-Profit Organisations Act of 1997 which establishes an administrative and regulatory framework within which non-profit organisations can conduct their affairs, and provides for their registration by the department.
  • Older Persons Act of 2006, which establishes a framework for empowering and protecting older persons, and promoting and maintaining their status, rights, well-being, safety and security. It provides for older persons to enjoy good quality services while staying with their families in their communities for as long as possible. It also makes provision for older persons to live in residential care facilities.
  • Children’s Act of 2005, which sets out principles relating to the care and protection of children, and defines parental responsibilities and rights. It deals with early childhood development (ECD), drop-in centres and early intervention, children in alternative care such as foster care, child and youth care centres and the adoption of children. The national ECD policy aims to define the provision of equitable ECD services in South Africa.
  • Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act of 2008, which regulates substance abuse services and facilities.
  • 1998 White Paper on Population Policy for South Africa, which aimed at promoting the sustainable development of all South Africans by integrating population issues with development planning in all spheres of government and all sectors of society.
  • 2015 White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which focuses on putting in place measures that will reduce the exclusion and inequality experienced by persons with disabilities. This includes contributing towards fighting poverty among persons with disabilities and their families, and providing policy guidelines on building capacity in the public sector to deliver equitable and accessible services.
  • 1997 White Paper for Social Welfare, which sets out the principles, guidelines, policies and programmes for developmental social welfare in South Africa. It provides the foundation for social welfare in the post-1994 era.
  • Social Service Professions  Act  of 1978, which provides for the regulation of social service professionals.
  • Victim Empowerment Support Services Bill, which is aimed at regulating victim support services and empowering victims. 

The department is also the custodian of international human rights treaties that the country has ratified, focusing on protecting the rights of children, people with disabilities and older people. This includes coordinating the implementation of these treaties, and compiling periodic country reports.

In addressing the critical challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality, over the medium term, the DSD intends to focus on deepening social assistance and extending the scope of social security; reforming the social welfare sector and its services to deliver better results and strengthening community development interventions.

This work gives expression to the National Development Plan’s vision of improving the short- and long-term prospects of current and future generations, and Outcome 13 (an inclusive and responsive social protection system) of government’s 2014-2019 Medium Term Strategic Framework. 

Social assistance and security

To alleviate the high rate of poverty in South Africa, government has institutionalised a comprehensive social protection system.

This includes unconditional cash transfers, most of which are aimed at supporting poor individuals from vulnerable demographic groups, such as children, older people and people with disabilities.

According to National Treasury’s 2019 Estimates of National Expenditure, in 2018/19, 17.6 million beneficiaries received monthly grants, and it is estimated that 18.7 million beneficiaries will receive social grants in 2021/22.

The bulk of these are allocated to the Child Support Grant (CSG), which currently benefits 12.5 million poor children, and the Old-Age Grant, which benefits 3.5 million people older than 60.

For two successive financial years, the social assistance programme has shown growth, with total uptake increasing by 1,7 % between 2017/18 and 2018/19. 

The Older Persons Grant grew by 3.8% while the CSG by 1.5%. At the same time, there was an increase in the number of adult beneficiaries in need of regular care and support in the form of Grant-In-Aid, which grew by 15.5%.

These figures show that the increase is mainly amongst the grants targeting the most vulnerable groups  – children and older persons.

The national prevalence of disability is 7.5%, and, as such, the disability grant, of R1 700 per month in 2018/19, was provided to more than one million people. By the end of 2019/20, the department plans to have operationalised an inspectorate tasked with maintaining the integrity of the social assistance framework and systems through detecting and investigating fraud.

The introduction of the inspectorate is expected to result in a decrease in the number of these fraud and corruption cases referred to law enforcement agencies, from 101 cases in 2017/18 at an estimated value of R6.3 million.

According to Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA) General Hosehold Survey (GHS) of 2018, the percentage of individuals that benefited from social grants consistently increased from 12,8% in 2003 to 31,0% in 2018.

Simultaneously, the percentage of households that received at least one social grant increased from 30,8% in 2003 to 44,3% in 2018. Grants were the second most important source of income (45,2%) for households after salaries (64,8%), and the main source of income for almost one-fifth (19,9%) of households nationally.

A larger percentage of households received grants compared to salaries as a source of income in Eastern Cape (59,9% versus 52,6%) and Limpopo (57,9% versus 51,3%). Grants were particularly important as a main source of income for households in Eastern Cape (35,0%), Limpopo (30,4%) and Northern Cape (29,8%).

Grant beneficiaries were most common in the Eastern Cape (41,9%), Limpopo (40,1%), Northern Cape (38,0%) and KwaZulu-Natal (36,5%). By comparison, only 19,2% of individuals in Gauteng and 22,1% in Western Cape were beneficiaries.

More than one-third of black African individuals (33,9%) received a social grant, compared to 29,9% of coloured individuals, and 12,5% of Indian/Asian individuals. By comparison, only 7,5% of the white population received grants.

Households that received at least one type of grant were most common in Eastern Cape (59,0%), Northern Cape (57,4%), Limpopo (56,7%) and Free State (50,7%) and least common in Gauteng (30,1%) and Western Cape (36,7%).

Some 21,3% of all individuals and 34,0% of all households in metropolitan areas received some kind of social grant (compared to 31,0% of individuals and 44,3% of households nationally).

Large differences are noted between cities. Nearly three-tenths of individuals in Buffalo City (30,6%) and Nelson Mandela Bay (28,6%) benefitted from social grants, compared to less than one-fifth in Ekurhuleni and City of Cape Town (both 19,2%), City of Tshwane (18,9%) and City of Johannesburg (18,7%).

A similar pattern can be observed for households at metropolitan level. Figure 7.3 shows that the reception of one or more social grants was most common for households in Buffalo City (47,9%) and Nelson Mandela Bay (45,4%) and least common in Tshwane (27,5%) and the City of Johannesburg (29,0%).

Nationally, salaries (64,8%) and grants (45,2%) were the most common sources of income reported by households.

Provincially, the largest percentage of households that earned salaries were found in the Western Cape (77,4%) and Gauteng (73,9%). Grants were more prevalent than salaries as a source of income in Eastern Cape (59,9%) and Limpopo (57,9%). Remittances as a source of income played an important role in most provinces, but especially in Limpopo (24,2%), Eastern Cape (22,8%), North West (21,4%), and Mpumalanga (20,2%). 

Reforming the social welfare sector 

A key component of Outcome 13 (an inclusive and responsive social protection system) of government’s 2014-2019 MTSF involves reforming and standardising the social welfare system.

To enable this, the department concluded its review of the 1997 White Paper for Social Welfare in 2016/17, and the development of a new white paper began in 2017/18.

This process will inform the development and enactment of a Social Development Act, which will provide measures and a uniform system for the promotion and provision of social development services across all sectors.

The Social Service Practitioners Bill is expected to replace the Social Service Professions Act of 1978 in 2020/21.  

The Bill is aimed at extending the scope of regulation to include emerging social service occupations such as community development practitioners, and child and youth care workers. 

Role players

National Development Agency (NDA)

TThe NDA’s primary focus is on strengthening the institutional capacity of civil-society organisations that provide services to poor communities. The agency also promotes consultation and dialogue between civil society and the State, debates policy development, and conducts research.

South African Social Security Agency (SASSA)

The objectives of SASSA are to ensure the effective and efficient administration, management, and payment of social assistance grants.

The agency’s core business is to administer and pay social assistance transfers. It has a large network of centres where citizens can apply for social grants, and manages a large payment system of more than 17 million monthly social grants.

Programmes and projects

Increasing access to ECD

The department’s ECD programme is intended to address inequality and human development challenges. The country’s integrated ECD policy aims to ensure deliberate and coordinated efforts to help improve children’s chances of having a better life.

Research indicates that the first few years in a child’s life are the most important for development. An estimated 83% of children aged from three to five who form part of the richest 20% of households are accessing preschool programmes, compared to only 58% of the children of the same age group who form part of the poorest 20 per cent of households.

Addressing this imbalance requires increasing access to quality ECD services by improving and maintaining infrastructure, and subsidising centres that offer ECD services to children from poor households.

Tackling substance abuse

The DSD has four new substance abuse treatment centres to provide inpatient treatment in Eastern Cape, North West, Free State and Northern Cape. Their establishment underscores the department’s commitment to preventing and treating drug abuse through the implementation of the comprehensive National Anti-Substance Abuse Programme of Action. 

Fight against gender-based violence (GBV)

On 10 July 2018, government organised the historic 100 Men March for No Violence Against Women and Children in Pretoria to raise awareness about the scourge of violence against women and children. 

The march was organised in partnership with various civil-society formations representing business, labour, faithbased organisations and NPOs. The march also served as an invitation to all men and boys to respond to the “Send Me – Thuma Mina” rallying call and take a stand against the scourge of violence and abuse.

The 100 Men March was followed by a #TotalShutDown March on 1 August 2018, which saw women in their thousands marching in various locations across the country in an effort to raise awareness on the rampant killing of women and children.

Government, in partnership with civil-society organisations, held a Presidential Summit Against GBV and Femicide in Centurion on 1 and 2 November 2018 to develop a national plan of action against GBV. The summit was an opportunity to share experiences and find collective solutions to end violence and abuse in communities.

The outcome of the summit, which included a declaration, will guide government and all stakeholders to end violence against women and children.

The GBV Command Centre (GBVCC) is a 24-hour call centre that was launched in March 2014 to provide immediate, consistent, coordinated and timely support and counselling to victims of GBV. The GBVCC is linked to the services of the police, emergency medical services and the Department of Health.

The toll-free number to call to speak to a social worker for assistance and counselling is 0800 428 428 (0800 GBV GBV). Callers can also request a social worker from the GBVCC to contact them by dialling *120*7867# (free) from any cellphone.

The GBVCC uses technology to geographically locate a caller from a mobile phone in order to determine the resources nearest to the caller such as a social worker, a police station, a hospital or safe house.

Thuthuzela Care centres are one-stop facilities that have been introduced as a critical part of South Africa’s anti-rape strategy, aiming to reduce secondary victimisation and to build a case ready for successful prosecution. 

Khuseleka One-Stop centres, which are open 24-hoursa-day, provide services such as trauma counselling and psychological support, healthcare, legal assistance and shelter for victims of abuse. The name Khuseleka is derived from the isiZulu word which means ‘protection’.

The South African Police Service has victim-friendly rooms at certain police stations where victims of GBV are interviewed for statement taking. The private rooms provide a friendly environment that assures confidentiality, respect and dignity. 

Access to food

Stats SA’s GHS of 2018 has shown that the percentage of persons that experienced hunger decreased from 29,3% in 2002 to 11,3% in 2018.

The percentage of households who were vulnerable to hunger reflects the same pattern as experienced by persons as it declined from 24,2% in 2002 to 9,7% in 2018, including a spell during which the percentage increased to 13,2% in 2008 before continuing its decline.

According to the survey, the percentage of households that had limited access to food decreased from 23,6% in 2010 to 20,2% in 2018. Simultaneously, the percentage of persons with more limited access to food declined from 29,1% in 2010 to 23,8% in 2018.

Food access problems were the most common in North West where 36,6% of households had inadequate or severely inadequate food access. Inadequate or severely inadequate access to food were also observed in Northern Cape (32,3%), Mpumalanga (28,4%), and Eastern Cape (25,4%).

Some 15,7% of households that lived in metropolitan areas had experienced inadequate or severely inadequate access to food during the preceding year.

Food access problems were most common in the City of Cape Town (27,5%), Nelson Mandela Bay (23,4%) and Mangaung (23,2%).

HIV and AIDS support

South Africa is continually striving to do more to stop new HIV infections and prevent AIDS-related deaths. The National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Tuberculosis (2017-2022) under the slogan “Let Our Actions Count”, guides the country’s response to these infections, seeks to reduce new HIV infections by 63% – from 270 000 in 2016 to less than 100 000 by 2022.

Spending on HIV and AIDS-related support, prevention and mitigation programmes also forms a large part of transfers to NPOs, and the South African National AIDS Council has partnered with the DSD in the selection of NPOs to undertake HIV and AIDS prevention and psychosocial support programmes.

According Stats SA’s Mid-year population estimates of 2019, for 2019, an estimated 13,5% of the total South African population is HIV positive. Over a fifth of South African women in their reproductive ages (15-49 years) are HIV positive.

HIV prevalence among the youth aged 15-24 has remained fairly stable over time. The total number of persons living with HIV in South Africa increased from an estimated 4,64 million in 2002 to 7,97 million by 2019. For adults aged 15-49 years, an estimated 19,07% of the population is HIV positive. 

People with disabilities

The 2015 White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (WPRPD) calls for government, civil society and the private sector to work together to ensure the socioeconomic inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Government seeks to create a caring and inclusive society that protects and develops the human potential of its children, a society for all where persons with disabilities enjoy the same rights as their fellow citizens, and where all citizens and institutions share equal responsibility for building such a society.

The WPRPD is intended to accelerate transformation and redress regarding full inclusion, integration and equality for persons with disabilities.

South Africa has been celebrating the annual International Day for Persons with Disabilities since 1997. According to Stats SA’s GHS of 2018, some 4,4% of South Africans aged five years and older were classified as disabled in 2018.

A larger percentage of women (4,7%) than men (4,0%) were classified as disabled. Limpopo (6,5%), Northern Cape and North West (both 6,4%) presented the highest prevalence of disability in the country.

Since older populations are more likely to have a higher prevalence of disability, the lower prevalence in Gauteng (3,0%) and Western Cape (3,5%) could be ascribed to the relatively youthful population that is often associated with net in-migration in these provinces.  

National Youth Policy (NYP)

The NYP for 2015 – 2020 (NYP 2020) focuses on redressing the wrongs of the past and addressing the specific challenges and immediate needs of the country’s youth.

The policy seeks to create an environment that enables the young people of South  Africa to reach their potential. It outlines interventions to enable the optimal development of young people, both as individuals and as members of South African society, enhancing their capabilities to transform the economy and the country.

This will be achieved by addressing their needs; promoting positive outcomes, opportunities, choices and relationships; and providing the support necessary  to develop all young people, particularly those outside  the social, political and economic mainstream.

The NYP 2020 emphasises the need for various youth development efforts and interventions that holistically respond to all aspects or spheres of young people’s lives. 

Blind SA

Blind SA is an organisation for the blind and is governed by the blind. Situated in Johannesburg, it is aligned with other member organisations throughout South Africa. The organisation provides, among other things, study bursaries for visually impaired students for further education, Braille publications in all of South Africa’s official languages, Braille training that entails writing and reading, and orientation and mobility training.

South African Braille Authority

The SABA was established in May 2012 as an NGO. Its purpose is to set and maintain standards for Braille in all 11 official languages of South Africa. 

South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB)

The SANCB is the coordinating body for over 100-member organisations throughout South Africa. These organisations span the full spectrum of services offered for and to blind and partially sighted persons.

Support for the hearing impaired

South Africa’s national organisation for the hearing impaired is the Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA), formerly the South African National Council for the Deaf, which was established in 1929.

DeafSA has nine provincial chapters throughout South Africa. An estimated 500 000 to 600 000 South Africans use South African Sign Language.

Other private organisations include the National Institute for the Deaf and the South African National Deaf Association.

Older people

The Older Persons Act of 2006 aims to enhance the quality of life and improve the health of older persons by engaging them in programmes that promote social, physical, mental and emotional well-being to prevent or delay the onset of ageing challenges and keep old age related illness at bay.

The Older Persons’ Parliament takes place annually in October. It gives elders the opportunity to engage with the executive on critical issues affecting their lives.

According to Stats SA’s GHS of 2018, about 9,0% (5,3 million) of the South African population is 60 years or older. Of the elderly (those aged 60 years and older), the highest percentage 23,9% (1,27 million) reside in Gauteng.

The proportion of elderly persons aged 60 and older is increasing over time.

Source: Official Guide to South Africa

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