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​Empowering vulnerable groups through social development programmes

Flipping through reports from the ministry of social development, South Africa has over 19 million children — more than a third of the population — of whom an estimated 60% are said to be living in poverty. Orphans, vulnerable children and youth face many challenges that range from accessing services to the responsibility of caring for sick and dying parents. This is often exaggerated by a lack of resources and struggling to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, education and healthcare. Adverse social conditions can have a damaging impact on children’s psychological and physical wellbeing, school attendance, educational achievement and the development of knowledge, skills and values necessary for their constructive participation in society.

In various partnerships to government support to vulnerable groups Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini and provincial MECs lead various programmes such as the provision of dignity packs, school-based social welfare schemes and drug prevention and rehabilitation services. The Gauteng Department of Social Development has committed to championing the provision of free sanitary towels to indigent young women, as many school-attending girls from disadvantaged backgrounds have problems managing their monthly periods. This intervention has proven that absenteeism decreases among young girls who are recipients of sanitary pads, who can focus on doing better in their grades rather than worry about who will help with sanitary towels when it’s that time of the month.

Gauteng MEC for Social Development Nandi Mayathula-Khoza said: “The implementation of this critical intervention is a sign that the government deeply cares about the wellbeing of the people of South Africa, in particular poor women and girls. The plight of indigent girl children is exacerbated by increased unemployment levels as well as inherited low socioeconomic standard of living, which forces families [to be] dependent on social assistance and welfare [and] to prioritise other basic needs such as food and shelter over sanitary and other competing basic needs.”

The commitment to provide sanitary towels and dignity packs to learners are examples of the significant steps that government has made to improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable, but the department also intervenes in other ways. In 2011 the Department of Social Development, through the National Association of Child Care Workers, developed the Isibindi Model. This model provided the sector with an opportunity to develop a large workforce of community-based Child Youth Community Workers to provide services to mostly child-headed families in line with provision of the Children Act, pertaining to prevention, early intervention and child protection.

Mayathula-Khoza shared the pride her department experiences when some of the Isibindi beneficiaries become top achievers in their final matric exams. For the year 2017, there were 436 beneficiary candidates in Gauteng; the top 12 matriculates in the programme averaged four to six distinctions each, and were honoured by Minister Bathabile Dlamini at an SABC breakfast event.

Orphan Amahle Sophangiso from Tshepisong, Soweto was a beneficiary of the Isibindi Model who received five distinctions in 2017. She said the programme helped her to focus on her schoolwork, as her home situation had forced her to become a guardian to both her grandparents and three toddler cousins. The provision of food parcels decreased the pressure on her to find part-time employment to provide for her family. The previous learner at Wiseman Cele Secondary School was identified by members of the community to become a beneficiary of the Isibindi initiative. The child and youth care workers helped her with domestic chores and with homework, as well as providing emotional support. This year Sophangiso has been accepted to study a bachelor of accounting science at the University of Pretoria. Her case and the many other Gauteng social development recipients prove that with consistent support, excellence is achievable.

Another vulnerable group that is a priority of the Gauteng department of social development is people with disabilities. The training of visually impaired beneficiaries to become social auxiliary workers is one effort among many to acknowledge those living with disabilities as people with many capabilities.

Three beneficiaries of this particular project were selected from the Johannesburg Home for the Blind. Chief executive Vangile Nyamathe said: “While government is gradually accepting blind people as capable individuals, so should the private sector, which should also show confidence in them by employing them …”

The programme trains recipients to become social auxiliary workers, by providing bursaries for their studies. Once qualified, they assist with administrative tasks as well as preparing cases for qualified social workers. This programme and other bursary schemes encourage beneficiaries to aspire towards careers within the social development sphere.

Through provincial legislature, the Gauteng Department of Social Development is able to make recommendations using relevant institutions to influence policy and relieve the burden of poverty on vulnerable members of society. The department continuously engages in research that outlines the necessary indicators for policy adjustment. The results are now becoming visible in education and employment practice; people with disabilities are being employed and companies are catering to their infrastructural requirements.

Justice Mbonani (33), Winnie Nkosi (41) and Nivan Mohlake (35) received bursaries from the Gauteng Department of Social Development; Mayathula-Khoza was inspired by their drive to succeed, despite being visually impaired. Mohlake was recently employed by the department’s Johannesburg Region, Mbonani is in the process of finding employment, and Winnie travelled back to her hometown to hopefully empower more people in her community.

Mbonani hails from Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal. He lost his sight in 2012 while working, but never lost hope of providing for his parents back home. He said: “I was devastated after receiving the news that I would never see again, but a doctor from the local hospital referred me to the Johannesburg Home for the Blind, and last year we met MEC Mayathula-Khoza, who assisted us dearly.”

The Gauteng department of social development, according to its vision, seeks to empower communities and engender self-reliance by creating conditions for sustainable livelihoods. This involves expanding the range of choices available to communities; there is no freedom without the feeling of having control over one’s destiny.  

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