Our elders helped teach us about our heritage, ancestry and most importantly our culture.
They were at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid and taught our mothers and fathers to care for and nurture us. Globally, the United Nations has declared October 1 the International Day of Older Persons.
Yet rather than enjoying their lives in retirement, many are facing extraordinarily difficult conditions, especially within township communities.
Statistics indicate there are over 5.5 million people aged 60 or older in South Africa. More than 90% of seniors live in township communities on government grants of just R1200 per month.
Apart from having to support themselves they are increasingly becoming the sole breadwinners, second generation parents and the core of the family township structure.
They are often caregivers of grandchildren, many of whom are orphaned through gang violence or HIV and AIDS. Others are often neglected, abused, vulnerable to crime, susceptible to illness, frightened and lonely.
Despite these difficult conditions, there are opportunities for senior citizens thanks to organisations who have not lost sight of their value and help support and treasure their gogos and tatas.
Ikamva Labantu is one of these organisations, an NGO that has been ‘helping older people love life’ since 1963. The aim: to create a supportive environment for older persons and keep them active in their communities for as long as possible.
Founder Helen Lieberman says, “By raising awareness around their issues and encouraging communities to care for the elderly, Ikamva Labantu can make a difference in the lives of seniors as well as the lives they touch.”
Seniors Clubs within townships are an enormous support base. Currently Ikamva Labantu assists 17 clubs and 600 people across the township communities of the Cape, from Philippi to Fish Hoek.
Founded and run by the seniors themselves, the clubs are open weekdays and provide an interactive, stimulating programme of activities, as well as resources, transport and nutritious meals.
Lieberman adds: “These clubs play an important role not only as places of safety and comfort, but also in empowering seniors. Members have control over the governance and finances and make all decisions related to their clubs – they are a means of fostering independence and self-reliance, creating freedom for our seniors.”
Traditionally elders have been valued for their wisdom and nurtured and revered in their extended family and communities and we must not lose sight of the valuable role they play.
They are our true heroes.
The carriers of our past, cultures and traditions and the ones who help mould our nation’s futures, our youth. October is the month to pay special homage to our elders.
Everyone deserves to spend their old age smiling ... and it’s time for us to salute them.
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For more information on Ikamva Labantu and the ‘Help us make them smile’ campaign, go to www.ikamva.org.za.