SOUTH AFRICA: No registration, no benefits

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An innovative outreach programme that uses local schools as the point of entry into South Africa's poorest communities is helping tens of thousands of impoverished rural people obtain previously inaccessible grants and services.

Many South Africans have been unable to access services because they do not have an identity document, which places citizens on the national database. The outreach programme, created and implemented by the Durban-based Media in Education Trust (MiET), a non-governmental organisation focusing on rural development, helps to bridge this gap by assisting school children and their families to obtain identity documents.

The Schools as Centres of Care and Support (SCCS) programme, funded mainly by the Dutch government and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, identifies and helps a district's most vulnerable children and adults via the school system. So far the programme has been implemented in the under-resourced parts of North West and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.

According to the United Nations' Children's agency (UNICEF), the births of only half the children in South Africa's more than 280 municipalities have been registered, and a birth certificate is required to obtain an identity document.

Under grant regulations, people applying for old age pensions, disability and child support grants, and various forms of medical aid, must have a 13-digit bar-coded identity document and/or a birth certificate. Adults seeking formal employment are also required to have an identity document so they can be registered for tax purposes.

Since the end of apartheid, provincial government departments have struggled to extend basic services and healthcare that would improve the lives of the poor; rural women remain the most vulnerable segment of the population.

The child support grant is one form of assistance that has helped struggling families. As of April 2007, more than eight million South African children under the age of 14 were benefiting from a R200 (US$30) monthly grant to caregivers earning less than R800 (US$115) per month; but the difficulty in getting hold of identity papers in remote rural areas has limited its reach.

Pilot project

The SCCS pilot project was first established in small number of primary schools in KwaZulu-Natal Province in 2000; it was rolled out in a further 400 primary schools in North West Province in 2005, one of South Africa's poorest provinces, and has been formally adopted by the province's department of education as a means of tackling the negative impact of HIV and poverty on education delivery.

The initiative is based on the premise that most rural communities have been decimated by HIV/AIDS and poverty to such an extent that the school is often the only remaining reliable institution, and is therefore the best way of reaching a community's most vulnerable people.

Participating schools are grouped into clusters of eight and placed under the guidance of a paid MiET coordinator. One of the initiative's main elements is using the local people's knowledge of their own communities.

Teachers and locals are asked to join coordinated groups of volunteers that identify children in need at schools and the adults they live with. According to Maureen King, the SCCS's North West provincial manager, while community members were keen participants from the outset, the uptake among departmental officials was initially slow due to their already large workloads. However, there has been a surge in participation over the past 12 months.

"We give participants an understanding of how to recognise the problems that children and adults are facing, and a vision of how to implement outreach programmes that will help to alleviate these problems," she explained.

"The responsibilities the adults take on also help them to build self-esteem and confidence, which has often been worn away by the difficult lives they have led. To strengthen the delivery structures we employ people based in the communities we are trying to help, and this creates a web that criss-crosses the districts."

Lack of capacity

The programme is also proving helpful to provincial departments lacking capacity. In October 2007 South Africa's Home Affairs Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said it would take at least another year before the four-month average waiting time between applying for an identity document and receiving it could be reduced to two months.

Philip Modingwane, a home affairs official in GaRankua district, North West Province, said the department had always struggled to provide people with essential documentation because of a lack of resources and personnel.

"We believe that rural districts are problematic areas for us because in North West many communities are isolated and we do not have the manpower to educate people about their rights and provide the documents they need," he said.


Julie van Wyk, director of curriculum and development services in the Department of Education in North West, said that establishing exactly who and where the vulnerable children were had always been one of their biggest challenges.

"The knowing has always been the difficult part for us: knowing which community needs what. The North West is rural and people live in small out-of-the-way places, so knowing who is at risk and who is not always easy."

Vicky Mpikilili, 12, who attends the rural Matlhware primary school near Rustenberg, about 120km northwest of Johannesburg, is one of the thousands of people who have benefited from the SCCS programme: in 2005 she was sickly, today she is a picture of health.

One of the programme's school-based support team members, Des Mmeko, went to Mpikilili's family home to find out if there was anything that could be done for her.

"Vicky's aunt did not have her sister's death certificate or Vicky's birth certificate, so we began by helping the child and aunt get the documents people need to get government services," Mmeko recalled.

"After that we brought Vicky for medical tests last year, and the results showed she was HIV positive. She started going for treatment and getting ARVs [antiretroviral drugs] and, as you can see, she is much better and happier."

Between November 2005 and March 2007 the SCCS programme in North West facilitated the provision of 15,102 identity documents and 20,200 birth certificates, and successfully applied for 5,375 child support grants.

Home affairs' Philip Modingwane said, "We have a mobile unit that can travel into the communities to provide birth, death and marriage certificates on the spot, which minimises the expenses for rural people because they do not have to travel so far. Once the SCCS volunteers have gathered together enough people in a certain area in need of documents, we go out to them."


The initiative has proved so successful that four of South Africa's neighbouring countries - Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Swaziland - have entered into a partnership with MiET to develop similar programmes.

But the future of South Africa's SCCS initiative is shadowed by doubt, as MiET only has funding until 2009 to establish the programme in 1,192 primary schools in the two provinces.

"We are busy capacitating people, but there is only money until 2009. What will happen then?" said Aubrey Kgobokoe, a SCCS training coordinator in North West. "It should be rolled out in all schools, so that teenagers will also benefit. Are we going to have to leave those who have yet to benefit to fend for themselves?"

Source: IRIN
See Also