I was honoured to start off the Social Development Month activities in the community of Mookgopong in Limpopo Province. I was part of the delegation deployed by President Jacob Zuma in Mookgopong area in July this year and I was happy to return there to begin the process of addressing some of the challenges we had identified.
The work of our government is geared towards changing the lives of our people, especially those who live in poor communities including, rural and farming communities. In 2009 President Jacob Zuma reminded us that the rights and benefits of living in a free country should be experienced and accessible to all South Africans irrespective of whether they live in rural areas, in informal settlements or in the middle class suburbs in the urban areas.
We know that despite this that often, poor people living in rural areas find it difficult to access government services and are also neglected by the private sector. This failure by the state and the private sector makes it difficult for the children of Mookgopong who indeed have the same ambitions like their counterparts in other parts of the country to achieve their dreams.
Recognising that a prosperous democratic South Africa is only really possible when this society works for the benefit of all its citizens, the ANC, made rural development a key part of its manifesto. In 2009, the electorate, all of you, overwhelmingly endorsed this manifesto and rural development is therefore, one of the priorities of our government. Our vision is to see sustainable and vibrant rural communities that have access to all services necessary for sustainable livelihoods.
This includes access to income, education, health care, recreation, transport, water, electricity, sanitation and a safe environment. Our visit to this area last year made us aware of the fact that these services that are so vital for all people to sustain themselves are not being delivered in the manner that you deserve.
The purpose of designating October as Social Development month is that we can inform the citizens and residents of our country of the services that they are entitled to by our Department, and the whole of government. The theme of our month-long programme is "Working together to build caring and sustainable communities for all". We will, therefore, during this month engage with communities. We will listen and seek to understand the problems they are experiencing and hopefully, jointly identify what we need to do to practically to improve living conditions and build better communities.
The Department of Social Development has been hard at work in its efforts to engage ordinary people that should benefit from a democratic government. Through the campaign ''Taking DSD to Communities'' under the leadership of Deputy Minister Mama Maria Ntuli, we have began a process to unlock service delivery bottlenecks and optimise opportunities for development.
As part of this process, the national, provincial and local government will work together with the community of Mookgopong to develop the Community Action Plan which will serve as a road map to address all challenges identified and expressed by the members of this community.
This campaign is part of a broader programme that is meant to impact positively on the lives of all our communities. Taking DSD to Communities is an important initiative of the War on Poverty campaign aimed at confronting poverty and under-development and improving the quality of life of all our people in rural areas.
We are of the firm view that in order to respond to the needs of our people, we have to work in partnership with our communities. Unless as South Africans, we all dedicate ourselves to the eradication of poverty and under-development, especially among children, women, youth, people with disabilities and older persons, our good intentions to make South Africa a better place for all will never be realised.
One of the challenges that we indentified during our earlier visit in this area was the unacceptable high level of malnutrition among children. Malnutrition amongst children is a blight on all of us and is a clear indicator of the high levels of poverty and inequality in South Africa. Poor nutrition is a major cause of other health problems in our country, including infant and maternal mortality. Improving nutrition is important for a healthy and productive life as well as for continued economic growth and development.
One of the ways that the South African government is fighting child hunger is to ensure that all eligible children have access to the Child Support Grants so that their parents and care-givers can ensure that the children have access to healthy food. I have instructed the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) to ensure all children eligible for Child Support Grant are registered and that their applications are expedited. Our social assistance programme is a key strategy to combat child poverty, promote human rights, restore the dignity and ensure food security for all our people.
This programme, will be integrated with other efforts to improve household food and nutrition security This will include programmes to support community based food production and improving food distribution channels so that quality food is more accessible and affordable for all people. I am pleased to learn that as part of the short- long-term solution, local office of Social Development in partnership with other departments and community have started with community food gardens.
I am pleased to report that as at 1 October 2011, the value of the Child Support Grant has increased by R10. 00 from R260 to R270.00. Since the introduction of the Child Support Grant in 1998, the value of this grant has increased from the initial R100. 00 to the current value of R270.00. This represents 170 % increase over a period of 13 years.
We reaffirm our commitment as government to speed up change towards poverty eradication and improvement of the quality of life for our people. It has always been the mission of our government under the leadership of the African National Congress to tackle injustice and inequality wherever we see it. There can be no greater injustice than children's life chances being limited by being born into poverty.
That is why the bold and historic commitment that our movement made in 1994 - to dismantle the legacy of apartheid and make poverty eradication the central theme of our work in government. It remains one of the driving purposes of our government and we are committed to taking further measures to make progress towards these goals.
During this month we will intensify our efforts to ensure that all children who qualify for the Child Support Grant, especially in rural areas receive this benefit without any further delays. As part of efforts to build caring and sustainable communities, we opened the Khuseleka One-Stop Centre at the Polokwane Welfare Complex. Centres such as these are important components of our overall strategy to eliminate the scourge of violence against women and children in our country.
Violence against women and children are acts of criminality that erodes the soul and vibrancy of our communities and our society. We must all - men, women and traditional leaders work to reduce practises that are harmful to women and children so that the ideal of living in a constitutional democracy is felt by all the citizens of this country.
The recent crime statistics was a reminder that we need to redouble our efforts to protect woman and children. The statistics indicated that there was a general decline in all major forms of violent crimes but, that crimes against women and children remain stubbornly high. As a society, we must therefore act as one to prevent violence from happening by challenging the attitudes and behaviours which foster it and intervening early where possible to prevent it.
In line with our government's vision of building caring and sustainable communities for all, the Department has taken a range of proactive measures to ensure the protection of our senior citizens, including the promulgation of the Older Persons Act. Notwithstanding, we are still concerned by the extent of vulnerability, abuse and neglect of our senior citizens. Going forward, we envisage a range of other measures to deepen our work. Key amongst others, we are looking at the following:
the proposal for the removal of the means test in respect of Old Age Grant
assessing the feasibility of state-funded funeral scheme for older persons receiving the old age grant
feasibility of conducting grant reviews for older persons above 75 years at home rather than at SASSA pay points
working with law enforcement authorities targeting loan sharks and officials who perpetrate financial abuse of older persons
working with SASSA to ensure that no grant reviews are conducted between December and January to avoid disrupting the lives of families who rely on social grant as the main source of income
As part of the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, the Free State province will host the 2011 Golden Games, a flagship project of the Department of Social Development that is aimed at promoting active ageing and intergenerational solidarity. The Golden Games are the only national multi-event sports and recreational programme designed to improve the quality of life for all our older persons. It is one of the most progressive and adaptive rehabilitative sport programmes in our country, offering different sports and recreational activities.
During the Month of October we will also work together with the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (CONTRALESA) to pursue development in rural areas. This stems from our belief that traditional leaders in partnership with elected leaders play a vital leadership role in the development of our communities. A focus of our partnership will be to develop Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes in rural areas. I am pleased to report to you that the local office of Social Development will begin the process to register the two ECD facilities in Phomolong and that eligible children receive subsidies.
Giving every child the best start in life is not just a political slogan, but is part of the mission statement of our government. Tackling child poverty through early childhood development is an economic necessity because it is about improving the life chances of children from poor communities. It also has benefits to the wider society too. As a society we all benefit when families and communities become stronger and cohesive.
Since 1994 our government has pursued the goal of poverty eradication as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are consistent with our government's Medium Term Strategic Framework to fight poverty and promote human development. While our government is deeply committed to eradicating poverty by supporting families and communities, we also recognise that we cannot achieve this goal on our own.
All sectors of our society-business, faith based organisations and the Non-Governmental Organisations have a critical role to play. And, of course, families and communities must play their part in making the most of the opportunities that government is making available to them. The success of Social Development Month initiative will depend largely on the active involvement of all spheres of our government in partnership with our social partners.
Let me emphasize that the battle lines against poverty are drawn. My Department working together with its provincial counterparts will intensify the struggle against poverty on all fronts. The acid test of our success in this regard must be based on the extent to which we extricate our people and vulnerable communities from abject poverty. This will continue to be our focus during this Social Development Month.