Govt gets tough on elder abusers

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pretoria - The Department of Social Development has vowed to act without fear or favour when dealing with those who abuse the elderly.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said the department has heard horrifying stories of the abuse and neglect of older people within their own families and in residential facilities. The minister has urged older persons to report such abuse.

"When visiting old aged homes, some of you don't speak the truth about the abuse ... because you are afraid of those people looking after you. Don't be afraid to raise concerns regarding the way they treat you and ensure that you help us to instill discipline in young people," Dlamini said on Monday.

Addressing senior citizens during the launch of the Charter on the Rights of Older Persons held in Freedom Park, Dlamini said too many elderly people continue to live in poverty, face negative perceptions about ageing, continue to be victimised by merciless criminal elements and worst of all, face abuse, neglect and exploitation - sometimes by their own families.

"[We have] to fight this. We will continue with unannounced visits at pension points to check that you don't give your pension cards to loan sharks because they charge more interest.

"If you don't have money to buy school uniform and if at school they want you to pay school fees, why don't you come to Social Development offices? The government will assist you because that money [pension grant] is for you only. Don't share it with other people," Dlamini told the elders.

She said as they celebrate the launch of South African Charter on the Rights of Older Persons, she wished that society would always have respect, compassion and affection for older persons.

"Older persons deserve to have their rights realised and their specific needs met so that they can continue to live their lives in dignity and make a contribution to our society.

"Activities for older persons should not only be around one month but throughout the year, because they look after orphans and vulnerable children and we need to strengthen their programmes to [ease the pressure on them]," she said.

The main objective of the Older Persons Act is to maintain and promote the status, well-being, safety and security of older persons, recognise the skills and wisdom of older persons and promote participation of older persons in community activities.

The South African Charter on the Rights of Older Persons seeks to ensure that older persons live in an environment which upholds the United Nations Principles for Older Persons based on independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity.

The charter is an instrumental reference tool aimed at protecting and restoring the dignity of older persons. It aims to complete and support various pieces of legislation and other measures which are already implemented and to set guidelines for future action in relation to older persons.

South African Older Person's Forum chairperson, Tom Mboya, hopes all mayors will buy in to the charter, and for copies of it to be distributed to every municipality.

Mboya also encouraged senior citizens to form provincial forums, noting that government has allocated a budget for them.

"Let it [charter] be a living document like the Freedom Charter. Join the gym and exercise, you might meet a girlfriend or boyfriend," Mboya said jokingly.

The department's Deputy Minister Maria Ntuli said: "Old age is a blessing and grey hair is a crown. Many of us are wearing this crown of wisdom, let's pass it to the youth."

During the launch, the elders were entertained by South African artists, Mara Louw and Abigail Kubheka.

Kubheka, who is 71 years old, said older persons are wings of the nation. "Although sometimes we are left out in the cold, but thanks to the government, we are now being recognised because we are pillars of the nation," Kubheka said.