The social development crisis in the Western Cape

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The plight of the homeless in our communities was recently highlighted when ridiculous fines were meted out against them for sleeping on side walks and in public areas. These people are often invisible to the majority of us.

According to statistics from the Street People’s Forum, there are almost 8000 homeless people living in the City of Cape Town alone. The Forum also indicates that 2 500 people slept in the shelters around Cape Town while 5 500 were sleeping outside in heavy rain. 

These figures will continue to rise if the provincial government of the Western Cape continues to fail at implementing initiatives that are aimed at addressing the issue at a grassroots level. A simple start would be to turn vacant provincial or municipal buildings into shelters. 

Some of these people have IDs, so the government must find ways to assist those who qualify for houses to be on the waiting list, while those who don’t have IDs must be assisted to get IDs. 

Homelessness is but one of the number of issues that the Western Cape Department of Social Development should be addressing. Instead of making it a security issue, as the City of Cape Town does, the Department should be playing a proactive role in investing in people and improving their well-being, so as to reach their full potential. 

In his state of the province address (SOPA), Premier Alan Winde, did not mention the homeless once. In fact, issues of social development is listed under the crime fighting strategy, in the premier’s first SOPA, instead of understanding and appreciating human development as a norm in and of itself. As with the bylaw addressing the homeless, the vulnerable in our communities are often criminalised. 

Another issue that is seriously affecting the empowerment of our girl-child is access to sanitary towels. The STEAMAC (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, agriculture and coding) education, proposed by the premier, means nothing if our girl-children, the most vulnerable and yet the demographic that possesses the most potential, are missing school simply because they cannot afford sanitary products. 

The national ANC government, through the department of social development, made a donation to the provincial Western Cape Department of Social Development of sanitary towels in the province. We are yet to see any effective measures introduced by the provincial department to use this donation, never mind rolling out a programme of its own. Premier Winde did not find the girl-child worthy of mention in his speech either.

The department said it would assist with piloting the implementation of the Sanitary Dignity Project. It is a cause for serious concern that four months into the 2019/2020 financial year we are yet to witness the roll out of this project. A similar thing happened in the past when the national government allocation for sanitary towels was redirected to other programmes by the provincial Department of Social Development.  

There is no doubt of the link between crime, violence and substance abuse. However, fighting substance abuse cannot be viewed only in relation to fighting crime. In fact, because the abuse of substance is linked in the mind of the provincial government only to crime, the Western Cape Education Department finds it acceptable to legalise the sale of alcohol in our schools. 

Put differently, not only does this provincial government act in silos, they think in silos as well. They cannot think of developing good habits, through social and human development, without relating this to education, sports, cultural affairs and economic development as well. Social development is only to fight crime says this provincial government.  

The ANC will use its presence in the provincial legislature to make calls for youth development and women empowerment to be amongst priorities of government. We will also campaign vigorously for social workers to be deployed to schools where teachers and learners suffer from all sorts of traumas, due to gang violence and sexual violence that is prevalent in Western Cape schools. 

The measures introduced by the Western Cape Department of Social Development over the past decade has been insulated at best and have therefore yielded no positive results in human development. Over and above this, critical programmes such as victim empowerment, youth development, and substance abuse prevention and rehabilitation have been given the smallest piece of the department’s pie. 

To address the above issues, we need bold and decisive leadership on the part of the provincial government. Parents, communities and broader civil society movements should be given space and necessary support to lend a hand.


Ntombezanele Gladys Bakubaku-Vos is the ANC Member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature and the ANC’s spokesperson for social development.