The politics behind the non-contributory old age social pensions in Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa

Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana comprise a cluster of southern African countries which provide monthly non-contributory benefits to their elderly citizens. This paper seeks to understand the differing political and socio-economic conditions in which the three pensions evolved and suggest what implications pensions may have for the nature of the citizen-state relationship. The paper argues that the motivation behind the long-established South African and Namibian pensions was ‘supply-driven’ to serve political ends. This has shifted over time and today all three pensions are increasingly ‘demand-driven’, that is, they serve welfare objectives of reducing poverty and promoting equality, although they must still remain acceptable to political and economic elites. This is demonstrated by analysing both ideological and practical facets of the pensions, including the design, the institutional home of the pension and the influence of geopolitical factors.