International Day of Older Persons champions the elderly

Sep 28, 2022

UNIDOP highlights ‘The Resilience of Older Women’

This year’s UN International Day of Older Persons aptly highlights “The Resilience and Contributions of Older Women”. The challenges of the last few years have intensified socio-economic inequalities for the least fortunate, and with women constituting the majority of older persons, they have been particularly vulnerable.

As such, UNIDOP on 1 October is a call to action to champion the voices of older women and to showcase their ongoing contribution to society.

Elders in South Africa face their own set of challenges, especially those who live in low-income communities. Many subsist on a meagre pension, and this is often shared with other family members. Limited resources lead to inadequate access to health and social services, and evolving social conditions have increasingly left older people vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Since the 1960s, when confronted with the widespread neglect and isolation of older persons in the townships of Cape Town, NPO Ikamva Labantu has collaborated with community-led Seniors’ Clubs to address urgent concerns to enhance older citizens’ quality of life. By facilitating access to essential health, social and legal services, and social enterprise initiatives, their Senior Citizens Programme has proactively assisted those most in need.

This ongoing project helps elders to take an active role in caring for each other and is propelled by strong women within self-organized communities. The founder of Ikamva Labantu seniors’ clubs across the Cape Town’s townships is Tutu Gceme, now an elder herself, who has dedicated her life’s work to the programme.

She reinforces the impact that seniors have on our society: “Seniors have mastered the art of achieving great things with what they have. They have contributed to building and protecting their families, and the community. They have contributed to the future of their children with the little resources available to them, but when they need help the most, very few people are willing to assist. We must all remember not to take them for granted, as they still have a lot contribute.”

Many seniors face a life of extreme hardship, and Tutu poignantly recalls finding some seniors eating dirt, or others locked up. She has been amazed by the resilience of the elderly, who from their social pension, have put their children through university. “These are seniors who have not complained, but used their pension as a seed to accomplish great things for their families,” she says.

The objective of Ikamva Labantu’s Senior Citizens Programme is to facilitate growth in household income for senior citizens by assisting with applications for government grants; to provide opportunities for income generation, and to make available community education on senior citizens’ rights as related to the Older Persons Act.

Research from across the world shows that elderly people are mostly devalued, rejected and stereotyped, and this holds true in South Africa, where many elders are subjected to all kinds of human degradation and deprived of respect and human rights.

By promoting wellbeing and economic activity, senior citizens are enabled to actively live out their golden years with dignity, improved health, safety and a sense of belonging and value in their community.

UNIDOP serves to increase the level of awareness of the plight of the elderly and calls on citizens to acknowledge their value, offer support, and promote policy dialogues that enhance the protection of older persons’ human rights.