The UN International Day of Older Persons is marked on October 1. The theme for 2018: Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions.
South Africa is a country that has been transformed by human rights activists, many of whom are revered and looked up to, both in life and in death. But many others who fought for our freedom have fallen through the cracks and are living out their later years in abject poverty.
Whilst we celebrate the contributions of older persons to the progress of our country, we must also acknowledge the many hardships that they still face today, including issues such as:
- Elder abuse, particularly in poor communities where unemployment, crime and drugs are prevalent. In Ikamva Labantu’s daily work with vulnerable seniors, we come across countless reports of financial, physical, emotional and even sexual abuse among the elderly.
- Food insecurity, 9.1% of older persons live in households that experience hunger.
- Financial insecurity, the old-age grant is the primary source of income for the majority of the elderly in South Africa. Many older persons stretch this money (R1,600 p/m) to support their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren – often feeding their families before themselves.
- Access to healthcare, only 6% of black older persons have access to medical aid – compared to 73.5% of white older persons.
The foundations of the Ikamva Labantu Seniors’ Programme were built by three human rights champions – Phumla Ndaba, Tutu Gcememe and Helen Lieberman – who are now, too, in their later years. Since the 1980s, their tireless efforts have resulted in the care and support of thousands of vulnerable senior citizens.
“The quality of life for many of South Africa’s seniors is devastating,” says Lieberman. “These are the men and women that fought for equality and freedom in our country, yet today they are often forgotten, isolated and even abused.”
Ndaba and Gcememe are both award-winning community leaders who were active in the fight for democracy and have been working alongside Lieberman to advance the rights of older persons for over 40 years.
Ikamva Labantu is marking this day with the launch of an awareness campaign, “Celebrate Seniors”, to highlight the stories and daily struggles of vulnerable older persons living in Cape Town’s townships, whilst acknowledging and celebrating all that they have contributed to society. Older persons are too often invisible in the public eye; greater visibility is needed to highlight the plight of older persons and to advocate for change and the upholding of their rights.