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Investigating the implications of ten years of democracy for women in South Africa:
the role of the Department of Social Development1

Sasha Poggenpoel and Liezl Oliver2

Posted with acknowledgment to IDASA:
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The overarching aim of the department of Social Development (DSD)3, formally the department of Welfare, is to provide, “…comprehensive social protection services against vulnerability and poverty…” (National Treasury, 2004a:493). In the first analysis that the Women’s Budget Initiative conducted on this department, the authors recognized that “welfare as a sector is doubly gendered” as not only are the primary recipients of these services women and children, but women are also the primary care-givers (Lund et al, 1996:97). Recognition was also given to the fact that this department employs predominantly women. The department of Social Development undoubtedly has a critical role to play in addressing gender inequalities. This paper sets out to explore the extent to which the department of Social Development has fulfilled this role.

The 1997 White Paper for Social Welfare dedicates an entire section to women-the obstacles they face and a strategy to guide the department’s response to gender inequity. The response recognizes the special needs of women in relation to poverty, marriage, ownership, access, violence, reproduction, care giving responsibilities and developmental programmes. In trying to reform the department in line with principles of equity and, more importantly, in trying to establish initiatives that are relevant to the needs of the people of South Africa, the new concept that was introduced was ‘developmental’ social welfare. This represents a departure from the policy and practice of previous years when people were heavily reliant on welfare pay-outs, and approaches welfare as a mechanism that assists people in helping themselves. (Budlender, 2000: 34).

Access to social security is a right that is constitutionally enshrined in Section 28 of the South African Constitution, “Everyone has the right to have access to social security, including if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants, appropriate social assistance (Republic of South Africa, 1996:13). In terms of policy developments within the Social Development arena, the department has undergone a number of changes, some of which reflect the conceptual shift. Some of the key developments include, for example, the 1997 White Paper for Social Welfare, which spelt out the new paradigm and strategic focus of the department. One of the main reforms by the department has been the introduction of the Child Support grant. Introduced as a result of the Lund Committee investigation, this grant was implemented in 1998. Although the Child Support grant is smaller, in monetary terms than the State Maintenance Grant, which it replaced, it has since become the biggest grant in terms of the number of beneficiaries it reaches. Another development was the adoption of the Ten Point Plan in 2000. The strategic vision of the department is now informed by this Plan, which outlines the main priorities to be tackled between 2000 and 2005. It identifies the priority areas, for example, HIV/AIDS, poverty, and a range of other social ills. Some of the more gender-sensitive programmes which target women are the Poverty Relief and Victim Empowerment programmes, implemented in 1996 and 1997 respectively. There have also been reforms that have been difficult to implement, a prime example of which is the commonly referred to 80:20 Policy. According to this policy, the public welfare sector committed itself to allocating 80 per cent of total Social Development resources towards social security grant payments and the balance to the other programmes it is responsible for (Department of Social Development, 2003a, b). Over time, however, the proportion of resources consumed by the social security grant component of the Social Development budget has consistently crowded out expenditure on the rest of the department’s programmes. Ten years into democracy, how has the department fared in bringing about an improvement in the lives of the majority of people and women in particular? While there has been significant progress in terms of policy development, implementation has been uneven. Poverty and unemployment remain the major challenges facing government. Even though the social security net has been expanded to provide 7.4 million beneficiaries with assistance, unemployment as a percentage of the economically active population, currently stands at about 42 per cent4, and poverty affects roughly 40 per cent5 of the population (Gelb, 2003:8 and Landman et al, 2003:7). Budget allocations are one of the most direct indications of the stance of government regarding important issues such as poverty, gender discrimination and other aspects of governance demanding attention and their share of available but limited resources. Not only is the implementation of a policy contingent upon available funds, but shifts in budgetary allocations can be indicative of changing Government priorities. In this paper, we focus on the pace of change by drawing on an analysis of the Social Development budget and the expenditure trends for the fiscal years 2002/03 to 2005/06. In addition we also examine how effectively services are delivered, highlighting possible pitfalls that hinder the more efficient workings of the department. Budget analysis provides an insightful tool in assessing how close Government is in achieving particular goals. In assessing how far the department has come in addressing gender inequalities, we concentrate on those programmes that respond more directly to the realities facing women in particular:
  • Violence – Family and Victim Empowerment and Shelters for Women subprogrammes,
  • Poverty alleviation – Social Assistance Programme focusing on five grants, and
  • Poverty alleviation – Development and Support Services Programme focusing on programmes for HIV/Aids and poverty relief
This paper is divided into the following sections:
  • Section 2 delineates the social and economic context within which women and children in South Africa live,
  • Section 3 assesses certain aspects of change intended to promote gender equity that have occurred within the Department’s organizational structure
  • Section 4 examines the budget by looking at consolidated, national and provincial social development expenditure.
  • Section 5 focuses on service delivery which occurs mainly at the provincial level. However, some attention is given to programmes for which the national department is responsible for financing and overseeing implementation.
  • Section 6 consists of concluding remarks that highlights critical questions that need further consideration

  1. The authors wish to thank Penny Parenzee (Women’s Budget Initiative) and Mastoera Sadan for their assistance in developing this brief with comments on earlier drafts.
  2. Liezl Oliver is currently a Masters (Public Policy) student at the University of Cape Town.
  3. In July 2000 the Department of Welfare changed its name to the Department of Social Development in keeping with the conceptual shift to ‘developmental’ social welfare.
  4. This percentage is based on the broad definition of unemployment.
  5. The poverty rate is based on the use of the Minimum Living Level (MLL) of R1 489 per month, per household of 4.7 people (Landman et al, 2003:4).

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