South Africa: Premier Sihle Zikalala - International Day for Senior Citizens

press release

Address by Kwazulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala during the commemoration of International Day for Senior Citizens in Ladysmith, 01 October 2020

Our Host, the Mayor of uThukela District Municipality, Cllr AS Mazibuko;

MEC for the Department of Social Development, Hon, N M Khoza;

All MECs who are with us today;

Chairperson of the Quality of Life Standing Committee, Hon P Mbatha-Cele;

Director-General of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr N Mkhize;

Chair of the Provincial Senior Citizen Forum, Mrs D Memela;

Our Traditional and Religious Leaders;

Mayors and Councillors;

HoDs and Senior Government Officials;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Introduction: 2020 theme and honouring the senior citizens of Kwazulu-Natal

In October, South Africa and our province commemorate Senior Citizens Month and the International Day for Senior Citizens to acknowledge the crucial role that senior citizens play in our communities.

As the Office of the Premier, we always look forward to celebrating the UN's International Day for Senior Citizens on the 1st of October.

We are also happy to be here in Ladysmith, a historic place that reminds us of the 60 year old multi-award winning isicathamiya group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and its founder, the late ubaba Joseph Shabalala, who passed away at the age of 78 in February this year.

Our government values the wisdom of our senior citizens. From our senior citizens, we learn the value of patience, unity, peace, and hard work. As an African saying puts it, "a village without the elderly is like a well without water." Indeed, our elderly are a priceless resource and source of strength for younger generations.

On this day dedicated to senior citizens, I am also reminded of Dr BW Vilakazi in one of his poems honouring the elderly where he says:

"Your greying hair crowns you with dignity,

Evoking pathways threading the past,

Symbolic of the story of your years."

Iphinda ithathe ithi ingqalabutho u Dr Vilakazi:

"Linenzulu lelokhanda lakho!

Ngibe ngiyafak' ubhoko

ngizwa ukujula kwalo,

ngingagquli phansi"

Mama u-Memela, siyaphinda sithi siyabuncoma ubuholi bakho nazo zonke izakhamuzi esezikhulile zakwa Zulu-Natal.

Siwuhulumeni, siyaziqhenya ngokuzimisela kwenu kukho konke enikwenzayo njengoba nihlala nenza nidla umhlanganiso uma nincintisana nezinye izifundazwe.

Kuniningi ngempela intsha nathi siwuhulumeni esikufundayo kini ngokuziphatha, ukusebenzisana, kanye nokuzimisela. Niqhubeke njalo nibe yisibani esikhanyayo ezweni nakubantu abasha.

Nonyaka sigubha usuku lwabantu abadala sisabhekene nobhubhane, ukhuvethe, noma i-Covid-19.

Siyazi futhi siyaqonda ukuthi lolubhubhane lulethe ukukhathazeka nenhlupheko eningi kubantu abadala njengoba kuyibona ababesengcupheni kakhulu ngenxa yokuhamba kweminyaka nokuntengantenga kwempilo.

Siyambonga umdali ngokusigcinela ogogo nomkhulu bethu. Siphinde futhi siwuhulumeni sedlulise ukuzwelana nayo yonke imindeni ehanjelwe zihlobo nogogo nomkhulu ngenxa yalolubhubhane.

We wish to unambiguously pay tribute to our senior citizens for leading by example as we battle this disease. We thank you for heeding health advice from our government and health workers. We have seen you adhering to wearing of face masks, social distancing, and hand hygiene. Let us remain vigilant and continue to practice hand hygiene and social distancing as this pandemic is still with us.

In 2020, we commemorate the International Day for Senior Citizens under the theme: "Pandemics: Do They Change, How We Address Age and Ageing?"

NgesiZulu ingqikithi yomlayezo walonyaka uthi: "Ubhubhane lwezifo: Ingabe Ziyashintsha, Sibhekana Kanjani Nobudala Nokukhula?"

In this regard, we call on all our social partners including civil society to use this day and the entire month to have province-wide conversations and dialogues that should result in:

(a) A deeper understanding of the nature of the rights violations and discrimination that people experience in old age,

(b) Enhanced cooperation among government entities and the civil society sector towards the development of programmes that are aimed at benefiting senior citizens.

(c) Increase in the number of effective and functional institutional mechanisms that will promote, protect and respect the rights of senior citizens.

As government, we call on all the people of KwaZulu-Natal to play their part in strengthening the collective voice of senior citizens towards the advancement of their rights.

Background and the rights of senior citizens

Ladies and Gentlemen, sadly, we are all aware that we have had periods in our recent past where our elderly were marginalised as ageing came to be viewed as a problem rather than a natural process. This resulted in senior citizens losing their respected traditional status and authority.

Despite their diminished status, we thank our elderly for having continued to play a meaningful role in heading households and providing critical leadership. In many instances, they became primary care-givers for sick children and orphaned grandchildren.

With the advent of freedom and democracy, our country adopted a Constitution that is founded on a Bill of Rights and the inherent right to dignity for all people.

The South African Constitution laid the foundation for the transformation agenda of the new democracy to protect the human rights of senior citizens and to end all forms of discrimination and inequality.

In 2006, South Africa enacted the Older Persons Act. This important legislation made provision for the protection of the rights of senior citizens and promoted a shift in services from primarily institutional care to community based care with the view of keeping the elderly in the community as long as possible.

The Older Persons Act, the South African Plan of Action on Ageing, our Provincial Plan of Action on Ageing provide a comprehensive framework for the protection of senior citizens rights. They are the bedrock for the creation of mechanisms and the structures within government and communities, to ensure that their welfare, status, and safety are safeguarded.

As government, communities, and stakeholders, our legislation enjoins us to play an active role in empowering senior citizens so that they can continue to live meaningfully in a society that recognises them as full, dignified human beings.

The Office on the Rights of Senior Citizens in the Office of the Premier carries the mandate of leading the coordination of various government departments, agencies, and stakeholders to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of senior citizens.

Part of our work is to ensure that Government allocates sufficient resources for the implementation of initiatives aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of senior citizens.

Senior citizens and pandemics

Ladies and Gentlemen, on a day like today, we wish to pay tribute to our senior citizens for being anchors of our families during the challenging times of pandemics. We all know the devastation that the HIV and TB pandemics has brought on many impoverished households in our province which remains the epicentre of AIDS in South Africa.

Our senior citizens have over the years been burying their sons and daughters because of the AIDS pandemic. It is our grandmothers and grandfathers who have often been left to raise grandchildren and send them to school from their pension and social grants.

Covid-19 has been a great concern for us as government. Research has told us that our elderly are more vulnerable to losing their lives because of complications related to Covid-19 and other diseases that they carry. The passing away of senior citizens means that families who depend on the pension of the elderly face the prospect of being deprived their means of survival. This is even more concerning with many young people out of employment.

Compatriots, thanks to South Africa's expanded HIV treatment, today people live longer than they were a decade ago. Stats SA reported last year that our country has the largest population of older people on the African continent. But no less than 40% of our elderly are poor and about 80 % of them depend on our public health system.

Covid-19 increased the vulnerability of our senior citizens. As more and more people lost their jobs, they were forced to depend on the pensions of the elderly. The pandemic also demonstrated the evil and unsustainability of the huge inequalities that face our country and its impact on the vulnerable poor and rural communities.

The new world that must emerge post Covid-19 must be one that prioritises the needs of our vulnerable senior citizens.

The ANC-led government must accelerate its economic recovery plan and ensure that such a plan is in the interest of the vulnerable poor.

We must reshape the apartheid social planning and ensure that our senior citizens have health care centres near the places where they live. We must never again put the lives of senior citizens who are on chronic medication at risk by forcing them to travel long distances in crowded taxis to hospitals or clinics.

This is the time to imagine a new world free from the indignity and inhumanity that our elderly citizens experience when they are forced to stand in long queues for their pensions. Our elderly must be protected from inhumane and overcrowded living places that increase the chances of diseases from infections like Covid-19 and TB.

We must all stand up and use the Covid-19 experience and say with one voice that we must not return to the old world that is defined by inequality and the indignity of poverty.

Report abuse of the elderly

It is important, Ladies and Gentlemen, that we always bear in mind that the elderly are considered as a vulnerable group in our country. This means that we must prioritise their needs and concerns. When we think of crime, of poverty, and of hunger, we should remember that all these factors have a particular bearing on the elderly as a vulnerable group.

We need to work together to rebuild our families and to rebuild the moral fiber of our society. It is despicable, shameful, and tragic to know that some of our senior citizens suffer verbal and physical abuse at the hands of younger family members. Some are attacked by their grandchildren who demand their Sasa cards or pension money. We must hang our heads in shame to know that there are also cruel and evil men who even rape our senior citizens.

We must be united in condemning these heinous acts. We must also work together to ensure that people who abuse the elderly, including family members, face the full might of the law and are removed from society. We call on all sectors, especially our faith based sector and traditional leaders to do more to advance moral regeneration and the respect of the rights of the elderly.

We cannot call ourselves free if the elderly live in perpetual fear that they may be harmed in their homes, on our streets, and when travelling to clinics, towns, or pension pay points.

Dialogue on the abuse of the elderly

This month, the Office on the Rights of Senior Citizens in the OTP will be leading a Provincial dialogue on elder abuse.

This programme is a partnership initiative between the Office of the Premier and Government Departments responsible for the protection of senior citizens in KwaZulu-Natal. Through this dialogue, we seek to promote community-based support to older persons.

We call on social partners, including our media, to work with us to advance the rights of senior citizens.

We urge social partners to help our nation to fight ignorance and myths associated with ageing.

One such area that needs urgent attention which our senior citizens have brought to our attention are the misconceptions surrounding a mental diseases like dementia or Alzheimer. This is a disease that comes naturally with ageing. We need to rise and fight misconceptions that seek to link this disease with witchcraft.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the persecution and brutal murder of senior citizens, in most cases women, who are thought to be witches responsible for some personal or community misfortune.

It is tragic to learn that in some of our communities, especially in rural communities, that there are people who associate ageing with witchcraft by women. Recently in our province, senior citizens have been beaten, burnt beyond recognition, hacked to death and stoned to death.

We hear that this matter is sometimes aggravated by some traditional healers who upon consultation point out senior citizens as witches. We also condemn the practice by some of our traditional leaders who usually punish senior citizens by banishing them or forcing them to leave their homes.

Honouring KZN's centenarians

We will also use this month of October to honour two Centenarians. The project is a collaborative project between the Office on the Rights of Senior Citizens and the Spousal Office under the Office of Status of Women. The centenarians were identified during the Office's engagement with rural communities.

The event is not only honouring these two elderly women, but will also serve to empower and uplift the Constitutional Rights of these women and help restore their dignity. One of these senior citizens is 106 years old and from here in Ladysmith. The other one turned 105 years in July and is from uMuziwabantu Municipality.


We call on communities and our local business people to lend a hand in the restoration of the dignity of our Senior Citizens.

Working together, let us ensure that they have descent sanitation, adequate shelter, and access to basic services.

We also call on our law enforcement agencies to be tougher on criminals that violate the dignity and rights of the elderly.

As I sit down, allow me to say to all the elderly of KZN, "Happy International Day for Senior Citizens!"

We love you, respect you, and honour you!

When we see you and listen to you, we know what our ancestors meant when they said, "the wisdom of the elderly is like the sun, it illuminates the village and the great river".

Together, Let Us Create Our Common Future!

And Let Us Grow KwaZulu-Natal Together!

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