Changing lives is more than just political rhetoric

On the freshly mowed laws of Buang Crèche, a preschool and early childhood development (ECD) centre, mothers, student beneficiaries, government officials and the media gathered to witness the work done by the Gauteng department of social development. MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza addressed the small audience, her voice barely carrying above the toddlers playing behind her. “The children of a nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that doesn’t value its youth and children does not deserve its future …” She quoted Oliver Tambo, whose ethos of putting the needs of children before everyone else’s is behind the Gauteng provincial government’s Bana Pele programme. It is through this programme that these children receive stimulation for the much-needed cognitive development and a nutritional meal.

Moipone Phethla from Zone 9 Meadowlands has a keen eye for the effective use of space as well as community development, which led to her establish a much-needed preschool facility in the area. In some of the old townships it is common to find abandoned buildings that belonged to the previous administration. If they were not renovated, these buildings would be vandalised and their windows, fixtures and roofs stolen. Moipone revamped one of these buildings to create Buang Crèche, and soon after community members brought their children to the facility.

Economic migrants continue to flood into Gauteng in pursuit of work and opportunities, and the Gauteng department of social development has responded with critical interventions to ensure that the cycle of intergenerational poverty and dependency doesn’t further burden the social system in the future.

Mayathula-Khoza’s address emphasised the first 1 000 days of a child, and programmes that assist young mothers to understand the importance of ECD. In South Africa 84% of toddlers have no access to formal ECD, but Gauteng, the most urban of all the provinces, has a significant number of children attending private and independent preschool facilities.

However, these facilities do not always meet the standards of the departments of education and social development. One reason for hosting the briefing session at Buang Crèche was to parade the well maintained facility, which has created an environment conducive to learning. To ensure increased accessibility to registered ECD services by all stakeholders, the department is identifying unregistered ECD centres and disseminating the information necessary for their compliance.

Southern Africa still has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, and deaths from HIV-related illnesses are common, though still clouded by stigma. Orphaned children have created a social development crisis that includes child-headed families and households in desperate need of social and/or foster care. The Gauteng government continues with interventions to mitigate the effects of the HIV pandemic. Psychosocial services are provided by the department’s social workers at it regional offices, who provide social, behavioural and structural assistance to recipients.

The Gauteng department of social development recognises itself as a custodian of the children in the province; there are legislative imperatives that it is mandated to fulfil. Guided by Section 28 of the Constitution and the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, the department is tasked with a radical social transformation agenda as propagated by both provincial and national government. The key focus of Bana Pele is to make Gauteng a province “fit for children” by ensuring that vulnerable and orphaned children between the ages of 0-18 years are able to access an integrated package of services through a single window.

Mayathula-Khoza gave a special mention to the class of 2017 in her address. Many of the children’s guardians are foster parents, and some are beneficiaries of the Isibindi Programme. The programme provides vulnerable children access to a range of support services. Early intervention, family preservation, community development and access to the children’s rights framework are the focal objectives of this programme. The provision of food through a daily breakfast and lunch nutrition programme reduces malnutrition and greatly aids the physical growth and mental development of children. The MEC outlined how this intervention also reduces engagement in risky behaviour by children who are helping their siblings get through school, such as having transactional sex with “blessers”.

Sabelo Biyela recently registered at the University of Witwatersrand. He and his brother were left in the care of their retired grandmother, who took them to the Gauteng social development Bekkersdal office in 2013. As a result of the this, their maternal grandmother receives some financial support from the department. Sabelo’s family is but one example; 16 754 children have benefited from the foster care programme, above the department’s set target of 13 806. A further 40 000 have received social and psycho-social service support. The department aims to aid thousands more children by 2019.

There has been noticeable increase in the use of highly addictive drugs such as nyaope in poorer communities. Addicts often resort to crime to maintain their habits. The Child Justice Act of 2008 provides for restorative justice in the system in respect of such children. The department’s programmes include services for crime prevention, guiding delinquents towards more productive habits, reintegration and aftercare. Young offenders are positively influenced to change their antisocial behaviour. Ke Moja is an anti substance abuse programme with “I’m fine without drugs” as its motto.

The Gauteng department of social development partners with nonprofit organisations such as the Tomorrow Trust, which supports orphaned and vulnerable children throughout their educational journey. The focus is on academics and life skills through an integrated education and holistic support service. To date, the service has helped 1 320 learners from preschool through to tertiary education; beneficiaries of the programme have a 90% employment rate. Lenovo laptops were donated to the top achievers, many of whom are now students at various tertiary institutions or are gainfully employed.

All too often the words of government officials are political rhetoric designed to garner votes. But here are real life stories of beneficiaries whose lives have been radically shifted due to the intervention of the Gauteng department of social department, creating an intergenerational impact and helping to break the cycle of poverty in the province and throughout South Africa.

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