FILE PHOTO: A comprehensive and groundbreaking report tells how a range of factors work to keep children trapped in abject poverty.

President Jacob Zuma says children who access child support grants early are more likely to lead full, productive and healthy lives because they enjoy improved health statuses, are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour and less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.

The ANC has historically been driven by addressing the needs of South Africa’s poor and vulnerable people. Building a caring society has always been a running thread in the movement.

The strategic stance of the ANC has historically been anchored on the tenets of social solidarity. AB Xuma, the ANC’s president between 1940 and 1949, led the development of a document entitled “Africans’ Claims”.

This document presented a comprehensive statement on the universal extension of political, civil and social rights to all citizens regardless of race, creed or class. It visualised a liberated South Africa that would provide free health services, education and social security services that were synonymous with social democratic societies.

These principles were reaffirmed in the Freedom Charter. The charter contains demands for social rights, including rights related to income maintenance, state-provided free and universal education, rights to housing and rights to free, state-provided medical care. Subsequent national conferences of the ANC continued to affirm the ANC’s commitment to building an inclusive society with strong social protection elements.

AB Xuma said in his 1941 presidential address to the ANC national conference then that it should be the task of the party to work for: “Old age pensions for Africans, disability and disablement pensions, extensions of provisions of the Children’s Act to meet social requirements of destitute African children-adequate maintenance grants’’.

And in the 1949 ANC conference minutes record amongst other matters that the ANC was to protest against as; “(j) The reduction of old age pensions, invalidity grants and other social security benefits for Africans while they are being increased for Europeans’’.

The 1942 ANC conference had the following as among resolutions: “That this conference of the ANC requests the government to include African school children in its recent midday meal scheme’’.

And on soldiers’ allowances, it said: “In view of the hardships experienced by soldiers’ dependents in receiving their allowances, this conference urges the government to instruct commissioners to travel from place to place for the purpose of paying the said allowances. Alternatively that such allowances be posted directly to each and every such dependant. This resolution is to be recommended to the members of the Native Affairs Department immediately’’.

The 53rd conference of the ANC in 2012 reaffirmed the visions of AB Xuma, Albert Luthuli, OR Tambo and Nelson Mandela of a caring democratic government and a caring society.

This conference of the ANC also resolved that to develop and implement “strategies for social transformation that seeks to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty while creating adequate social nets to protect the most vulnerable in our society”.

The manifesto that we launched on January 11 outlines how we aim to further realise this vision of building a caring society that takes care of all its people as we build a more inclusive economy and society.

In transitioning to a democracy, the ANC government transformed South Africa’s social welfare system.

This included the de-racialisation of the provision of cash transfers in line with constitutional requirements so that all people can access the benefits for which they qualify. We began to restructure the social insurance programmes, improving access to early childhood development (ECD) services, welfare services, and developing and implementing HIV/Aids prevention and treatment programmes.

Before 1994, society starkly reflected the apartheid legacy. The rate of poverty was between 32 percent and 59 percent depending on poverty measure used. The vast majority of the poor were black people, particularly those living in the rural areas.

To deal with these levels of poverty and deprivation, the ANC government has worked consistently to develop a social protection system that is developmental and meets the needs of all its most vulnerable people. Out of necessity a key focus has been to increase the number of people accessing their constitutional guaranteed social security.

The numbers of social grant recipients has grown from 2.4 million people in 1996 to 16 million, with children being the biggest beneficiaries.

South Africa’s ability to improve access to unconditional transfers of social grants to millions of its citizens has been impressive and is being studied as a model by other developing countries. Its impressive impact has unfortunately largely been unappreciated domestically except by the beneficiaries whose lives it has changed for the better.

The social grants have served to make household incomes secure. They are helping families to cope with vulnerability while human development indicators have been improved and risks mitigated.

Studies undertaken by the Economic Policy Research Institute, Unicef and other independent research institutions, found that social grants reduce absolute poverty rates and as measured by income measures, the social grants have also been key to reducing inequality rates. The research reports also found that children who access the child support grant early, had improved health statuses, were less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour and less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.

The CSG increases the employability of South Africans. Statistics from the South African Labour Force Surveys and EPRI demonstrate that households which received social grants were 2 percent more successful at finding employment in 2005. Female recipients of the grant reported a 3 percent higher probability of finding employment, compared to the 9 percent lower probability of not participating in the workforce for women who did not receive the grant.

Cash transfers therefore, enable many poor households to participate in labour markets, and contribute to building human capital.

The ANC government has passed essential pieces of legislation that will enable the implementation the envisaged service package required for the better social protection of children.

The Children’s Amendment Act of 2007 provides for increased access to early childhood development services, increased reporting of child abuse, neglect and exploitation, and increased access to support services for vulnerable and orphaned children.

We can thus state boldly that we have fulfilled the wishes of our forebears. As we take South Africa forward, we will continue to develop and implement policies that will seek to reduce and ultimately eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Freedom for our people should go beyond formal, political rights. It should also include fundamentally more equitable distributions of income, land and better participation in the economy by the masses of our people.

* The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Newspapers

Sunday Independent