Ladies and gentlemen of the media, thank you for joining us today.
In the past two years the Department of Social Development has undertaken various outreach programmes, including Social Development Month (during October) and Taking the Department of Social Development to the people. Through our outreach programmes we have been able to uncover many developmental problems in communities that contribute to the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality in our country.
Child and youth-headed households are of great concern because of the various problems the young people have to contend with as they struggle to survive without parents. It is not a normal situation for children to start being adults, by taking care of themselves and their siblings, at a young age. Many of them are abused by neighbours who take advantage of the fact that they have no older person looking after them.
As we have been visiting many parts of the country, we have found many children who are not taken care of, some because they have no one to take care of them, and some because of the dire circumstances of their families. Many of them suffer from malnutrition, others are abused.
Our violent past as a country continues to trouble us as we see the persistence of violent behaviour in our communities. Gender-based violence, violence against children, and bullying are still a great cause for concern in our communities.
The disintegration of the family unit is also a critical challenge that brings with it many social ills. Many of our children drop out of school and young girls fall pregnant because the family has disintegrated. There is no doubt that alcohol and substance abuse contribute immensely to these problems.
Loan sharks continue to abuse and take advantage of our people, especially the elderly who depend on government grants for their livelihoods. Through the dialogues we held with children and youth from child-headed households in May, we also learned that they do not know how appropriately their social assistance is used.
This creates a fertile ground for loan sharks and poses a challenge to us as government. We believe that government and civil society has to offer further education to our grant recipients on the appropriate use of grants.
While others want us to help them use their grants appropriately, some collect grants just to abuse them. We have uncovered many examples of young women who receive the child support grant on behalf of children when they don’t live with the children nor provide for them.
Our approach to these challenges, ladies and gentlemen, must be a holistic one linking our welfare services, social assistance and integrated development. The beneficiaries who enter our system through welfare services and move on to receive social assistance, must eventually be in a position to stand on their own through our integrated development services.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We realise that, despite the achievements since 1994, more still needs to be done to improve the lives of all South Africans. We are committed to continuously improving the way we deliver services to the people of South Africa through proper monitoring and evaluation and direct interaction with municipalities and local stakeholders.
The department is continuously reviewing its service delivery model in order to meet the changing developmental needs of all South Africans, especially the vulnerable groups, including children and youth, older persons, and people living with disabilities. We recognise the need to build partnerships with all sectors of society for the advancement of development.
It is for these reasons that we announce the roll out of our new service delivery improvement strategy, Project Mikondzo a Xitsonga word meaning, “footprints”. This is an indication that we want to increase our footprint and reach every corner of South Africans we haven’t been able to reach before with our services. We do this to improve our responsiveness to the needs of our people and break down the structural barriers created by apartheid that placed government far from people.
The key objective of Project Mikondzo is to improve and extend the reach of the services that the department and its entities, SASSA and the NDA provide to South Africans at a community level. We will focus on South Africans living in poverty, the marginalised and the vulnerable who are the primary targets and recipients of social development services. The geographic location and population concentration of South Africans living in poverty is largely in the former homeland areas.
This service delivery improvement strategy will therefore be targeted at the one thousand three hundred (1300) poorest wards, which are part of the 23 District Municipalities identified by Cabinet for prioritisation. The municipalities identified face many of the challenges we have outlined above and other service delivery challenges. This provides the department with an opportunity to strengthen and improve the impact of its policies and programmes.
The service delivery improvements we want to introduce will be informed by our engagements with provincial and municipal authorities, councillors, ward committees and social workers who will provide us with first-hand information about the situation on the ground in their various areas.
We will set up a command centre with a 24/7 toll-free helpline through which communities can report difficult service delivery matters. Project Mikondzo will also pay attention to strengthening civil society organisations, through the NDA, to help us deal with the challenges of food security, early childhood development, gender-based violence, and capacity building of NGOs. We must ensure the availability and accessibility of facilities that assist vulnerable groups.
Access to Early Childhood Development Services is at the top of our agenda. The ANC’s 53rd National Conference resolved that the first one thousand (1000) days of the child’s life up to the age of four must be prioritised and called for universal access for at least four (4) years of Early Childhood Development. The conference further stressed that Early Childhood Development must be made a public good.
There are plans in place to ensure that all Early Childhood Development Centres are registered and early childhood practitioners appropriately trained. Programmes for parental training are also on the pipeline.
Further to improve the provisioning of Early Childhood Development services, the Department of Social Development has begun an audit of early childhood development centres to obtain information on the nature and extent of early childhood development provisioning, services, resources and infrastructure in order to inform and support ongoing policy and planning initiatives.
The audit began in the Northern Cape on 19 August. The Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State will be audited during September; followed by the North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo in October; and conclude in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in November.
The success of Project Mikondzo will therefore be measured by the accessibility of the department and its entities to the people. Our teams have already entered the Mpumalanga province through the Social Cluster of that province. In Limpopo we have entered the Elias Motswaledi District Municipality; the Amathole, O.R. Tambo and Alfred Nzo District Municipalities in the Eastern Cape; and the West Rand Municipality in Gauteng.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In order for this initiative to produce the required results, we need the cooperation of all relevant stakeholders, especially the public. The enabling factors for our success is cooperation between stakeholders, more importantly communities, community based organisations and non-governmental organisations.
We have been able to achieve more in areas where there are functional community structures. We have not been successful in areas where communities are not actively involved in their own development initiatives. These are areas where local government structures such as Municipalities, Ward Committees are not so supportive or strong in advocating for the social development cause.
We also call on you, the members of the media, to partner with us by bringing to our attention any matters of concern regarding service delivery that you encounter as you go about your work of holding us accountable so that the necessary interventions can be brought about. I am sure many of us saw Cutting Edge this past Thursday when it broadcasted a very heart-breaking story of an elderly woman who has to look after a bed-ridden autistic child.
Project Mikondzo is about identifying such desperate cases and putting our resources into action so that no South African has to live under those circumstances. We therefore call upon our communities and all other stakeholders to cooperate with us in this initiative as we identify service delivery gaps and devise ways to take us further into the second phase of our democratic transition.