Having completed nationwide public hearings on the Older Persons Amendment Bill, the Portfolio Committee on Social Development worked to consolidate its report on the hearings in a virtual public hearing session on the Bill.

Present in the meeting were important stakeholders, including Ilitha Labantu, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and Prof Kitty Malherbe, from the University of the Western Cape. Johan Rademeyer from the Silver Crane Day Care was also on hand to share their knowledge and experience. The views of these stakeholders will further enrich the committee’s perspectives and inform the consolidated report on the Bill before it becomes law.

 In general, the stakeholders present in the meeting welcomed the letter and the spirit of the Bill. For example, they were pleased with the improved definition of the meaning and parameters of “older persons abuse”, the integrated approach for rendering their services, and the rights, recourses and various mechanisms to ensure accountability for the facilities and people taking care of older people.

Ilitha Labantu’s representative, Ms Natsai Chaka, welcomed the Bill’s advocacy for removing people from an old age facility if their dignity and rights are being violated, without the need for a court order. This is a milestone that should be commended, she said. Ilitha Labantu also welcomed the standardisation and professionalisation of care-giving; the Bill now requires care-givers to be licenced and trained.

However, Ms Chaka criticised the lack of coordination between the social development department and the police when crimes against older people are committed. There is also poor coordination between other stakeholders involved in the care of older people, she said, which contributes to a lack of accountability for those rendering services to such people.

Nonetheless, Ms Chaka welcomed the Bill’s intent to remove the stigma often associated with aging and the lack of understanding of chronic diseases afflicting older people, such as Alzheimer, often associated with witchcraft in South Africa.

Prof Malherbe, from the Department of Mercantile and Labour Law at the UWC, cautioned against what she perceived as the linear and restrictive definition of a care-giver in the Bill. She is concerned that the Bill does not account for communal care-givers in community-based facilities, who may not be professionally trained. As such, she contended, the definition has a narrow scope of application.

Although she commended the bill’s intent to bring about a regime of integrated services to older people, she wanted to know how their respective responsibilities would be prioritised and how they will access resources, if such services are not rendered to them. She also queried the Bill’s suggestion that facilities for the elderly should be registered or headed by a “juristic person”. She was concerned that, by law, such a person would not be held personally liable for any transgression, as “… one can’t take a company to jail”, she pointed out.

COSATU, meanwhile, supported what it called the Bill’s progressive approach to the notion of aging. The union’s representative cited the Bill’s recognition of older people’s right to comfort as a case in point. “Older persons should not only be content simply with bare essentials but should retire in dignity,” COSATU said.  

COSATU also welcomed the Bill’s broadening of the definition of abuse and its insistence on temporary care for those who have been subjected to it. The new provision of the amendment Bill will go a long way towards ensuring that older people retire in safety, comfort and appropriate care, COSATU believes.

The cutting of grants to old age facilities and the exorbitant fees required by municipalities to run a compliant old person’s facility was regretted by Mr Rademeyer, from Silver Crane Day Care Centre“We had to spend almost R2 million to meet the municipal fire standards, per government requirements. Instead of using that money to make older persons comfortable, we are giving to government … the same government, we have been shouldering its responsibility for years now,” he contested.

Cutting grants to care facilities has forced them to limit the number of people they assist, Mr Rademeyer said. In addition, the facilities performing such care should not be burdened with regulations they cannot meet. “After all, we have all these years been doing what government should be doing. In my view,” he emphasised, “more grants should be granted to these facilities, rather than being burdened with more regulations.” 

Abel Mputing

21 February 2024