Ageing and Society



Politics of pension sharing in urban South Africa


ANDREAS SAGNER a1c1 and RAYMOND Z. MTATI a2
a1 Institute of Ethnology and African Studies, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany; Centre for Gerontology, University of Cape Town, South Africa
a2 Khayelitsha, Cape Town

Abstract

Analysing the practice of pension sharing, this article looks at social and cultural dimensions of ageing in an urban African residential area, Cape Town's Khayelitsha. First, the paper discusses pension sharing as a future-oriented security strategy. Many older Africans in Khayelitsha believe that if they do not share their pensions with their kin, they do not have much chance of being helped in times of need. Pension sharing as an instrumental act is rooted in the perceived underdevelopment of the state social security system on the one hand, and in the very character of African kinship and the fluidity of today's urban domestic units on the other. Partly triggered by poverty and mass unemployment, African pensioners are under severe normative pressure to share their grants within their families. Taking into account African notions of old age and of personhood, and considering the widespread devaluation of older Africans in social constructions, pension sharing provides older Africans with an (easily available) means by which they can earn (self-)respect. Further, state policies indirectly enhance the normative pressure on pensioners to share their old-age pensions. On a symbolic plane the practice may be construed as a political model that conceptualises duty as the inner bond of the social world. In conclusion, it is propounded that the concept of (intergenerational) reciprocity is inadequate to account for pension sharing or practical provision of old-age care.

(Accepted August 30 1998)


Key Words: older people; pension; state; culture; morality; reciprocity; kinship; family; South Africa; Cape Town.

Correspondence:
c1 Address for correspondence: Andreas Sagner, Institute of Ethnology and African Studies, Ludwig Maximilians University, Oettingenstr. 67, 80538, Munich, Germany.