Legislature Debate: DA pays tribute to senior citizens

Anthony Benadie, MPL

DA Provincial Leader, Mpumalanga

Note: This is a member’s statement by Anthony Benadie MPL, DA Provincial Leader, to the Mpumalanga Provincial legislature, on 21 October 2014, during the Snap Debate on the Senior Citizens Parliament.

Honourable Speaker,

Each and every one of us in this chamber today, owes our livelihood and existence, directly or indirectly to a senior citizen.

Those of us, fortunate enough to have known or still have grandparents, will no doubt think of them with fond memories. In many cases, it is their life stories, experiences and lessons that shape our own values and often behaviour.

Therefore, it is appropriate for us, as the current generation of leaders to pay tribute to those who came before us. According to census 2011, Mpumalanga is home to some 400 000 senior citizens.

While many of our parents and grand-parents have passed on, and not had the privilege of tasting the fruits of our Democracy, we are forever grateful, for those 400 000 senior citizens, who are still with us today, many who worked tirelessly, sacrificed their families and lives to ensure that South Africa enjoys the Democratic Freedom that we do today.

How sad then Hon Speaker, that this sector of society to whom we owe so much are often the most vulnerable, side-lined and forgotten people in our province. How sad, that 20 years into a Democratic South Africa the evil legacy of Apartheid still haunt so many of our senior citizens. How sad that some senior citizens in our province still do not have a house to call home and many are unable to access government pensions due to missing documents, and the inability of government bureaucracy to assist them.

In our province, the Department of Social Development spends R32 685 000 per annum, as financial assistance to 124 NGO’s for care and support services to 5 239 older persons. That constitutes a mere 1.3% of our senior citizens.

More concerning Hon Speaker, is that in most cases, government funding to NGO’s are paid late and are drastically insufficient to fund the operating expenses of such NGO’s. As a result many facilities caring for our senior citizens are in constant financial distress, with the burden of providing sufficient funding to such institutions being increasingly shifted to the private sector.

While it can never be denied that for many senior citizens, the evils of Apartheid will live with them forever, especially from an educational point of view, our responsibility is to systematically reduce and eradicate the impact of our segregated past on the lives of our senior citizens.

There are many things that could’ve been and can still be done to reduce the legacy of South Africa’s past from impacting on the lives of senior citizens today: Why, after 20 years of freedom do so many older persons still have walk many kilometres to collect water, live without electricity, have no access to pensioner public transport, have to be subjected to often inhumane treatment at government departments.

Why do so many our senior citizens have to walk long distances to access clinics or hospitals, to sit all days in queues in to a nurse or doctor only to be turned away and told to return the next day for medicine? While Hon Speaker, in the Western Cape, where the DA governs, every single older person on chronic medication enjoys the home delivery of medication, every month, on a fixed day, in the right quantities – why can this not be done in Mpumalanga?

So too Hon Speaker, our older persons must be respected. In 2004, the Mpumalanga older person’s survey revealed the changing role of senior citizens. Findings show that in 63% of multi-focal, multigenerational households, 76% of older people are the sole providers of household necessities, caring for the sick, and grandchildren in increasingly skip-generation households.

The impact of HIV/Aids on the role of senior citizens has been phenomenal. In too many cases, senior citizens have become the sole provider of subsistence and care to younger generations, due to the high mortality rate among young adults as a result of the HIV pandemic.

So too Hon Speaker, we condemn in the strongest terms the violence and abuse that so many senior citizens experience, often at the hands of their children. It is a symptom of a very sick society, with sever social defects, where one hears of elderly persons being raped and assaulted.

Hon Speaker, we love our senior citizens, we owe our lives to them and we have a non-negotiable responsibility to ensure that we foster a safe and caring environment for them. Let’s not forget, that God willing, we too will one day be classified in the category of senior citizens, and the question is basic: Would you want to be treated the way the current ANC government treats older persons?

In conclusion, Hon Speaker, the Democratic Alliance pays tribute to all our senior citizens, we thank them for their support, their guidance and wisdom we recognise their contribution of giving of themselves, so that we may have today and we cherish forever the role and contribution they have made, to give me and my generation of young South Africans, a beautiful, democratic and free South Africa.

I thank you.