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South Africa

Updated by Luis Frota on 11.04.2014

There have been many accomplishments in social security since the transition to democracy in 1994. Most notably are: the creation of important safeguards protecting the constitutional right to social security and social assistance for all people in need; the establishment of a dedicated agency, the South African Social Security Agency, to ensure uniform access to social assistance benefits for all qualifying residents; the expansion of benefits to children and elderly people; and the extension of unemployment insurance to domestic workers and seasonal farm workers.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa enshrines social security as a right which is guaranteed by the establishment of a compelling legal and institutional framework that establishes a well advanced and developed social security system.

The social security system is based on a three-pillar approach to the provision of social security: the non-contributory (tax-financed), the contributory and the private voluntary pillars:

  • Pillar 1: Non-contributory schemes: targeted cash transfers for the vulnerable, and a growing list of social services, including free health care, basic education and subsidized housing for the poor. In addition, there is universal provision of some basic services (water, electricity and sanitation);
  • Pillar 2: Mandatory social insurance: publicly-provided short-term benefits; privately-provided social security is required, depending on occupation or sector;
  • Pillar 3: Voluntary private insurance: covering pensions, short-term benefits and healthcare (including medical aid, which is usually voluntary but can become mandatory depending on a company’s policy and on the occupation and sector).