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Social protection of the elderly in Swaziland

Research Report by Umchumanisi Link Action Research Network (ULARN)

The Coordinating Assembly of NGOs (CANGO)

October 2003

Posted with permission of Emmanuel Ndlangamandla, Director of CANGO.
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Executive Summary

This study evolved from the Umchumanisi strategy. Among other things, Umchumanisi aims at giving a voice to the marginalized groups. In this regard, the initiative has facilitated poverty dialogues in over 20 constituencies. One of the most recurrent issues during these dialogues has been the plight of the elderly in Swaziland. This study therefore was to investigate the vulnerability of the elderly in Swaziland and highlight the extent to which selected programmes respond to the needs of the elderly.

A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods were used to collect the data for this study. A questionnaire was used to interview 207 elderly people from the four regions. In addition there were community focus group discussions of the elderly and key informant interviews with officials of five organizations that assist the elderly. These included officers from two of the regional offices and one from the Head Office of the Social Welfare Department. Key informants from two NGOs were also interviewed.

The findings of the research reveal that the elderly bear the brunt of unemployment, poverty and HIV/AIDS. At a time in their lives when their economic, social, physical and motional well being is at its lowest, the elderly are expected to shoulder the responsibilities of taking care of families. Irrespective of place of residence, the majority of the elderly care for people within and outside their households. This caring however is not reciprocated as very few of the respondents had other people caring for them in return. While the elderly are faced with many problems, the problems of the disabled elderly are even more acute. Food security is a major problem for the elderly. While land does not seem to be a problem for most of them, lack of access to farming inputs has continued to be a challenge to their food security.

An overview of the programmes designed to assist the elderly shows that support tends to be sporadic, inadequate and reaches very few of the destitute elderly. The elderly do not receive adequate support from any source. To begin with, the knowledge about the available programmes was very low and the criteria used to select the beneficiaries was regarded as not being objective leaving the majority of destitute out. The procedures for accessing the state grant was not considered to be "elderly friendly", accessing the grant becomes a burden or chore to the elderly, especially to the disabled and the sick.

The study concludes with several recommendations. A policy on the elderly is long overdue, the political rhetoric about concern for the elderly reaches a peak during elections but this has not been translated into the enactment of policies once the politicians are in parliament. The criteria for determining eligibility should be improved and more elderly friendly procedures are needed for accessing the state grant. The role of the elderly in family welfare should be acknowledged in development programming.

The assistance for the elderly should go beyond financial help and include other services such as farming inputs, health care and school fees. Policies and programmes on HIV/AIDS should recognise the role of older persons as care givers to the sick and orphans. Promoting a culture of saving and investing will prevent people from being destitute in their old age. Collaboration of stakeholders is necessary to optimise the limited resources available. Community based efforts to provide food for the elderly and the needy should be supported.

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