Building Social Protection Systems in Southern Africa

Comprehensive social protection systems comprise several components, including: (1) social assistance, (2) social insurance, (3) developmental mechanisms that simultaneously “protect” and “promote” livelihoods, and (4) transformative” measures that promote social inclusion and social justice. While most African countries are implementing a range of social protection projects or programmes, very few (if any) can claim to have fully articulated social protection systems, but South Africa’s is probably the most comprehensive in sub-Saharan Africa. Social grants to vulnerable groups include the Child Support Grant, the Disability Grant and the Old Age Grant, which together reach a quarter of all South Africans. The government is planning to introduce a National Health Insurance scheme. The government also runs the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), which offers temporary work opportunities as a response to high rates of structural unemployment. Finally, the post-apartheid government introduced a raft of progressive social policies, including minimum wages and workers’ rights, which promote social justice. Do these mechanisms (plus others) add up to a complete social protection system, or do significant gaps remain – are there holes in the safety-net? To what extent do South Africa’s neighbours either have the same policies (for instance, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland all run national social pension schemes) or the potential to build similar systems (what are the constraints)? This paper aims to describe and analyse the social protection system in South Africa, identify any remaining gaps in the system, compare South Africa’s system with projects and programmes in neighbouring countries, and propose the steps that are required to build comprehensive social protection systems in southern Africa.