Chairperson and Deputy Chair of this important House - by the way, I was once a member of this House - hon Deputy Minister, hon MECs for social development present here today, distinguished guests, representatives of development agencies and civil society present here, hon members and all of you esteemed ladies and gentlemen, a few days ago our people solemnly converged in their thousands to mark the 16th anniversary of freedom and democracy in South Africa.
As we celebrate and continue our charted course, we again draw inspiration from profound words so nobly uttered by our great icon and gallant freedom fighter, Tata Nelson Mandela, when he said, "No South African should rest and wallow in the joy of freedom". These words remain relevant up to this day. So, instead of wallowing in the joy of freedom, we use the 16th anniversary of freedom as an opportune time for reflections on the journey we have travelled so far.
The loss, pain and trauma of the apartheid decades must serve as a reminder and strengthen our resolve to work together to defend our democratic gains. The opportunity is now at hand for each one of us to join together in a vision for a better and greater South Africa. As we celebrate our democratic gains over the last 16 years, we remain mindful of the many challenges that still lie ahead. However, we cannot allow cynics and the prophets of doom to say that nothing has changed and that nothing will ever change.
We are making steady progress on many fronts and, most importantly, we are making a real difference in the lives of families, children, the youth, older persons, and people with disabilities across South Africa. A report entitled "Towards a 15-year Review", which was recently tabled, clearly shows that there has been a very significant decline in poverty, accompanied by significant access by the public to basic services. Absolute poverty among South Africans declined significantly.
Let me hasten to point out that none of these changes happened by accident or chance; rather, it is the result of a deliberate action by the ANC to move our country to a shared future. However, as I have said earlier, we can never be complacent, and we can never take our success for granted because we recognise that there is still a lot that remains to be done. Many other challenges still remain to be tackled.
As we celebrate the 16th anniversary of freedom, we remain mindful that democracy must bring its material benefits to all our people, particularly the poor, the marginalised and vulnerable members of our society. From the rural villages of Muyexe in Limpopo and Tshidilamolomo in North West to the posh suburbs of Sandton in Gauteng, freedom must benefit our people. The translation of freedom and democracy into measurable results is a task that faces all of us. Today we take another major step in our pledge to restore integrity, to renew hope, and to build a caring society.
Therefore, the Department of Social Development's strategic objective is to implement appropriate policy interventions so as to respond to the immediate needs of individuals and communities, while at the same time engaging in policy research and development that explore longer-term solutions for addressing systemic poverty and inequality.
Guided by our theme "Working together we can do more", and in line with government's key priorities, Budget Vote No 18 is an expression of our electoral mandate to deepen and improve the quality of life of all those who are impoverished and vulnerable. The pre-election commitments of the ANC serve as a road map on this path. Our voters cast ballots for these commitments: decent jobs, education, health, sustainable rural development, and a crime-free society.
It is worth noting that I have already signed a performance agreement with the President. Our Deputy Minister will also soon commit by signing. These performance agreements will cascade to all our managers and staff in both the department and our entities to strengthen the service delivery and accountability that we are here to talk about.
This Budget Vote is focused on accelerating government investment in the Department of Social Development's three key programmes, namely social security, welfare services and community development. As we all know, poverty reduction continues to be the centrepiece of the ANC government's agenda. To this end, we have put in place a number of measures to address poverty and its associated challenges, such as unemployment, social crime, HIV/Aids and social exclusion.
As part of our contribution to the creation of a better life for all, the Department of Social Development, working together with its provincial counterparts and civil society organisations, has developed and implemented an array of programmes that offer a protective shield against various contingencies of life to many vulnerable individuals and households. We are conscious that if we are to achieve the national goal of eradicating poverty, we must ensure access to basic services and social protection systems, particularly for vulnerable children, persons with disabilities, and other disadvantaged groups in our society. Accordingly, the right to social protection is embedded in the Constitution of our country.
During the debate in the National Assembly on 23 April, I indicated that our envisaged comprehensive social security system has three pillars, namely social assistance, social insurance and voluntary savings. While significant progress has been made with regard to the first pillar, which to date covers just over 14 million South Africans, we still have a long way to travel with regard to the other two pillars.
The task that remains is the finalisation of policy and implementation of our comprehensive social security system. This will be done through, amongst others, linking contributory and noncontributory schemes and improving access to these schemes. Our ultimate objective is the establishment of a system of social security that protects our people against particular vulnerabilities and risks, addresses retirement needs, and promotes economic and social development.
As I indicated earlier, our government is determined to eradicate poverty. It was with an enormous sense of solidarity and in line with our Constitution that Cabinet approved the extension of the child support grant to include all children born on or after 31 December 1993 and all those born in the year of our democracy. These are the people that we are talking about. The extension of the child support grant will be phased in to cover over 2,1 million eligible children under the age of 18 years by the 2011-12 financial year.
With regard to a related development, I am happy to report that we have made considerable progress with regard to age equalisation for the old age pensions. From 1 April this year, men over the age of 60 years, who meet the means test criteria, became eligible for the old age pension. Hhayi shayani izandla bo! [Ihlombe.] [Please give a round of applause! [Applause.]]
In this regard - especially this side - I want to express my gratitude to our government and the National Treasury for making the necessary budget allocation for implementation of the final phase of this process.
In spite of the impressive progress we have made on many fronts, adequate protection for children, women, people with disabilities, and older persons against violent crimes and abuse remains a serious concern to our government. To this end, we will continue to work with our partners in the social sector to expand and strengthen welfare services and interventions targeting rural and underserviced areas.
Last year I informed this august House about two important pieces of legislation, namely the Children's Act, Act 38 of 2005 as amended and the Older Persons Act, Act 13 of 2006. As many of us may know by now, these two pieces of legislation came into operation on 1 April this year. The Children's Act, with its broader view to protect, care for, and ensure the development of children, brings along major obligations on the social sector. It also requires a total paradigm shift which we are determined to go through.
We therefore remain committed to provide early childhood development services for all our children as a major focus of our government. Pursuant to the President's clarion call, which he made in his response to the debate on the state of the nation address, we will upscale our investment in children through the early childhood development, ECD, programme. An investment in children has proven to yield positive health and educational outcomes. These include improvement in cognitive development through early learning stimulation and improved health through inoculations and better access to nutrition. This investment in our children is indeed an investment in the future of our country.
While the primary responsibility for the care and protection of children lies with the primary caregiver, our government firmly believes that protecting our children is everybody's responsibility. Therefore, we make a clarion call to all parents and caregivers to ensure the enrolment and attendance of our children at ECD centres, as these centres also provide them with a protective environment.
That is why we will continue with our efforts to raise community awareness of child protection issues. On 21 May this year, we will, together with the Presidency and the President, launch the annual Child Protection Week campaign. We will use this campaign to popularise the Children's Act as well as launch the national action plan to promote child safety during the 2010 Fifa World Cup and beyond. On 10 March this year, our Ministers and Members of the Executive Council, Minmec, endorsed a joint national action plan to co-ordinate and facilitate the safety and protection of children during this tournament. The plan includes, amongst others, the establishment of a national joint and provincial command centre, setting up child-friendly spaces in four provinces, namely two in Gauteng, two in Mpumalanga, one in the Eastern Cape, and one in Durban.
One of the issues we will focus on is the deployment of social service professionals and foreign language interpreters at the public viewing areas and in the host cities to provide counselling services to victims of human trafficking and any other social problems that may arise. Let me assure you that we are working together with other provinces, civil society organisations and development agencies such as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, Unicef, to ensure that the safety of our children is not compromised. I appeal to all South Africans to be vigilant and work closely with us, as well as the law enforcement agencies, to stem the scourge of abuse of this particular nature in our country. It does not mean that many others are not important, but we specifically talk about this in relation to Fifa.
The rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law is a key priority of this government. Consequently, over this Medium-Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, period, we will continue to implement the Child Justice Act by scaling up appropriate diversion and alternative sentencing programmes. The Deputy Minister will allude to these issues in her speech.
The other important piece of legislation that I would like to bring to the attention of the NCOP is the Older Persons Act. This Act ushers in a new developmental approach in support of older persons.
We live in a fast-aging world where older persons are playing a critical role in families and communities. In our quest to build a society for all ages, we will give priority to the implementation of this Act. I am encouraged to note that all provinces have embraced the active aging approach and have put in place measures to promote older persons' participation in cultural, social life, and lifelong learning initiatives. We look forward to your continued co-operation and partnership as we implement the South African plan of action on aging.
We will formalise our partnership with Age-in-Action and continue to implement programmes that promote intergenerational solidarity. At the heart of our intervention is the need to promote the family as the first line of care for older persons. I am sure that all of us will stand up to the confidence bestowed upon us by our society and work together to implement this Act. Regardless of our party affiliations, we all have a single collective responsibility to work together to protect our senior citizens. We say again that working together, we can do more.
Let me take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the two senior citizens who died in a fire that broke out at the Rusthof Old Age Home in Paarl on Sunday. Our thoughts and prayers are also with those hurt in the accident. We wish them all a speedy recovery.
The need to retain the current pool of social service professionals and attract more to our sector is imperative, particularly in the light of new pieces of legislation that we have promulgated. In this regard, we have increased the budget allocation for the implementation of the recruitment and retention strategy for social workers and the training and employment of other cadres of the social service professions. The process for the nomination of members of the SA Council for Social Service Professions, SACSSP, and a professional board for social work has been completed. We will install the new members later this year.
With regard to the occupation-specific dispensation, OSD, I am happy to report to this august House that we have made significant progress in all provinces. To date, all our social workers and community development practitioners have received a salary notch progression in accordance with the OSD agreement. We have also set up review committees in all provinces to deal with individual complaints and other matters related to this process. To date, the review committees are dealing with the remaining 200 of the 300 queries that we received from four provinces only, namely North West, Gauteng, Western Cape and Northern Cape.
The regrading of community development practitioners has also been completed. Part of Social Development's responsibility is to facilitate and encourage social and economic development through local action. In this regard, we have begun working earnestly with our provincial counterparts to implement integrated high-impact development projects as part of the activation strategies to link the poor to sustainable livelihoods and economic opportunities.
One such project is the Hemp Industrial Park in the Eastern Cape. Other priorities in this regard include the following: working together with the Soul City Institute to sustain and roll out the Kwanda community development initiative; supporting the establishment of food bank networks in four additional provinces to bolster household food security; capacity- building of social service professionals on the toolkit for community development practitioners, and to contribute to the work on the war on poverty.
It is our government's endeavour to redesign all rural development programmes with a more pronounced antipoverty focus. To this end, and in a further effort towards waging war on poverty, we have allocated R87,2 million to the National Development Agency, NDA, for disbursement to antipoverty initiatives. On this note, I would like to encourage hon members of this august House to look at the very impressive work done by these community organisations.
As part of our contribution to the Social Protection and Community Development cluster, we will give more attention to programmes that seek to stimulate the rural economy to provide livelihoods for citizens who live in rural communities. One such initiative which we are implementing in partnership with the Cacadu District Municipality in the Eastern Cape is the Vondeling upliftment project. This project has been making a real difference in the lives of the poor by providing them with the opportunity to build their assets and improve their quality of life.
The SA Social Security Agency, Sassa, has responded with a great sense of urgency to President Zuma's call to make government work better and faster for our people. Reflecting the new ethos of effective and responsive governance, the agency has begun to implement an innovative grant administration process which will be rolled out over this Medium-Term Expenditure Framework period. The overriding purpose is to improve the total value chain of the grant administration programme.
We live in a world dominated by advanced information and communications technology. Consequently, we must leverage information communications technology to transform the way we do our work.
In this regard, I am pleased to announce that we will move towards the implementation of the National Integrated Social Information System, NISIS, over this MTEF period. This is done with the view to enhance the integrity of our information on the delivery and impact of government services. This system gives government a single view of a beneficiary of service and is currently being used as part of the war on poverty campaign, as well as in the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme, CRDP. To date, 43 000 households have been captured and 60 000 individual referrals have been generated through this system. Over this MTEF period, we will also focus our attention on developing and implementing a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system to improve service delivery across the sector. The full implementation of NISIS will contribute to the development and implementation of a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system.
In relation to youth development, we will continue with the implementation of the Masupatsela Youth Pioneer Programme which creates an opportunity for every young person to become a valuable asset in our country. Through this programme, we plan to nurture and foster the spirit of patriotism amongst our young people and to ensure that we build activism and nation-building among them. So far, we have recruited 2 099 young pioneers and 120 mentors. We have trained 1 752 pioneers through the Masupatsela Youth Pioneer curriculum. We have also deployed six Cuban experts in six provinces to fast-track this particular programme.
Substance abuse is not a fight that government can win alone. It is transversal in nature and requires the collective involvement of all sectors. It is a fight that requires the participation and vigilance of all South Africans. The Deputy Minister will allude to this programme, and I will not get into details thereon.
As I conclude, I want to indicate that this budget that we are tabling before this august House today brings much-needed relief and shows compassion to the most vulnerable members of our society. With this budget, we continue to invest in our children, the future of our nation, and to strengthen families. With this budget, we convey shared hopes and dreams for a better South Africa.
It is almost a year since I assumed responsibility for this portfolio. I am encouraged by the enormous support given by the Chairperson of this august House, the Deputy Chairperson, the Chief Whip of this House, members of the Select Committee on Social Services, the MECs, members of civil society and community-based organisations, as well as volunteers, staff of the department led so ably by the director-general, the Sassa, and NDA, so ably led by both the board and the acting chief executive officer.
I also thank my family and my political home most importantly, the ANC, for their selfless efforts and support. Their unwavering commitment to the cause of building a caring and compassionate government is the embodiment of the new ethos that we want to address. This is the kind of ethos that we are practising in the Department of Social Development. Surely, this spirit of team work will continue as it should, and I have no reason to doubt that it will so that, together, we can do more to improve the lives of our people. I thank you. [Applause.]