Social Security Rights: Campaigns and Courts

Cambridge University Press
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Socio-Economic Rights in South Africa: Symbols or Substance?, 2014, 1, pp. 253 - 274
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Almost one third of the South African population (16 million people out of a total population of 50 million) benefitted from social assistance grants as at 30 September 2012 (South African Social Security Agency [SASSA], 2012). The social security system in South Africa has grown dramatically over the past decade and a half. It is considered by government and non-government sectors to be the most successful poverty alleviation programme in the country, given its wide reach and developmental impact on high levels of poverty and unemployment. This chapter tries to understand which strategies were most effective in ensuring that the government met and increased its obligations to realise the right to social security in South Africa’s Bill of Rights. The chapter suggests that litigation played an important role, in combination with advocacy and lobbying by civil society, to both pressure the government and support progressive elements within it to implement and expand the reach of the right to social security (through extending existing grants). Efforts to introduce new grants within anti-poverty campaigns and through lobbying and advocacy strategies were less successful in achieving realisable results, although they may have contributed to change in symbolic and political terms by raising awareness of socio-economic rights provisions and of the high levels of unmet needs in poor communities. These strategies are explored through four case studies. The chapter considers two successful efforts to extend social assistance grants: the Child Support Grant to all children up to the age of eighteen and the Old Age Pension to men between the ages of sixty and sixty-five. In contrast, the chapter explores two still unsuccessful efforts to secure the right to social security for people with chronic illnesses and for those members of the poor not encompassed within the social assistance net (the call for a chronic illness benefit and the campaign for a basic income grant [BIG], respectively). The chapter evaluates the impact of strategies by looking at the resulting policy and legal changes, the increased or improved delivery of grants, progressive shifts in government attitudes and approaches, and public awareness of rights and entitlements. How strategies cause change to occur is examined by looking at the relationship among the various actors pushing for change, the strategies they use, and the impact these have. The causal links are explored through seven qualitative interviews with key players in civil society and government, through participant observation, and with reference to literature and press coverage of the events described. The chapter uses interviews with government officials from the Department of Social Development and officers of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), together with relevant documents, to support its arguments. The authors were also directly involved in some of the litigation and advocacy strategies and draw on their own experiences to inform their arguments.1 This chapter does not claim to provide a comprehensive overview of all strategies employed within the realm of the right to social security. It focuses on four case studies dealing with different existing and proposed grants. It has not entered into an examination of the range of administrative justice court challenges and campaigns that have also had a profound impact on the realisation of the right to social security in South Africa (see de Villiers, 2002; de Villiers, 2006; Liebenberg, 2005; Jagwanth, 2004; Plaskett, 2000). For example, litigation brought by the Black Sash to force the Department of Social Development to make back payments to grant recipients who had waited for long periods before receiving their grants, resulted in people being paid from date of application rather than date of approval.2 This led to more than R2 billion (US$250 million) being made available from the budget to ensure implementation.3 Attempts by others to understand these strategies are encouraged.
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