Country Listing

South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa

Disabilities and the Aged

Social welfare services in the 1990s include care for the disabled and the aged, alcohol and drug-rehabilitation programs, previous offenders' programs, and child care services. At least 1,742 private welfare organizations and numerous government agencies administer these programs.

The National Welfare Act (No. 100) of 1978 established a coordinating council, the South African Welfare Council, to help manage these diverse programs. Amendments to the act in 1987 signaled the government's growing awareness of the need to narrow differences in social welfare among racial groups. In the early 1990s, the government spent about R1 billion per year on welfare programs, excluding old-age pensions. About one-half of that amount was spent on whites. Government spending under the RDP in the mid-1990s was geared toward improving social services for other racial groups.

About 3.5 million South Africans are physically disabled in the mid-1990s. The government's approach is to encourage independent, although sometimes assisted, living for them. Assistance is sometimes available through outpatient rehabilitation centers, counseling services, workshops, and sheltered employment centers. Families and church groups are still important in assisting the handicapped, especially the mentally and psychologically impaired, although government-funded services are available for the blind and the deaf. Substance abuse programs, especially for alcohol abuse or marijuana dependence, are also available in some communities.

The government administers about 1.8 million old-age (nonmilitary) pensions in the 1990s that represent a total of about R4 billion. The government began narrowing the gap in pensions for different racial groups in 1992 and pledged to eliminate such disparities. But elderly black and other citizens continued to claim that they were disadvantaged because of their racial identity in the mid-1990s. Government welfare agencies also provide veterans' benefits, adoption and foster care services, services for alcoholics and drug addicts, and services for abused and neglected children.


Most refugees in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s were from Mozambique, fleeing that country's civil war. Estimates of their number varied widely, in part because many other Mozambican migrant workers were in South Africa during that time. The number of refugees was particularly difficult to estimate because until 1993, South African officials sometimes denied access to refugee camps for international observers trying to monitor the refugees' living conditions.

In early 1994, officials estimated that perhaps 1 million Mozambicans were working in South Africa, legally or illegally, and that perhaps as many as 500,000 were refugees. Although only a few took advantage of a repatriation program implemented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in April 1994, in early 1995 relief workers estimated the number of refugees at about 200,000. This number was reduced by half during 1995, although several thousand Mozambicans were entering South Africa each month in early 1995--some for the second or third time.

Internally displaced South Africans were believed to number at least 500,000 in 1995, according to the United States Committee on Refugees (USCR). Most of these had been uprooted by official apartheid-related policies in the past decade, and perhaps 10,000 or more were displaced by political violence in KwaZulu-Natal in the early 1990s. The new government established a Land Claims Court and planned to adjudicate several thousand of such claims by the late 1990s. By mid-1996 a few cases had been resolved by restoring lost land, and a small number of displaced South Africans had received compensation for their losses.

Data as of May 1996