The International Day of Older Persons was established on the 1st of October by the United Nations General Assembly in 1990. The global population has seen a significant demographic transition in recent decades. The average life expectancy has increased globally from 46 to 73 years between 1950 and 2019 (World Health Organisation, 2022). In 2019, there were 703 million people over the age of 65 worldwide. The overarching theme for the United Nations International Day of Older Persons in 2022 is “the resilience of older persons in a changing world” (United Nations, 2022).
Ageing is a universal phenomenon. In every society, there are distinct phases within the human life span. These phases of ageing are characterised by various physiological, sociological, psychological, and environmental changes (Amaraya et al., 2018). The socio-spatial experience of ageing can differ significantly across communities and for individuals. As with other facets of society, such as education, nutrition, employment, healthcare, and social security, ageing can be a profoundly unequal experience (Boulhol & Vanhuysse, 2018).
Indeed, unequal access to social, financial, and physical resources such as housing to meet their basic needs dramatically impacts the experience of the ageing process. One such need is housing and additional care services. Research has shown that access to decent living spaces with other care services and social participation promotes lower morbidity rates and a better quality of life for the elderly (Shafrin et al., 2017). Unfortunately, this is not the case in many parts of the developing world.
In South Africa, the supply of public housing for the elderly has been neglected. With limited state-subsidised housing available for the elderly, family members often absorb the burden of housing and specialised care. In South Africa, about R293 Billion is spent annually on social security, of which R 90 Billion is allocated to the elderly (StatsSA, 2021). Moreover, existing legislation and policies are geared toward providing affordable, accessible, and equitable housing, but the question remains, “is this enough?”. South Africans over the age of 60 are entitled to a non-contributory social security grant of R1000 to R2000 per month (Expatica, 2022). This grant aims to alleviate poverty and serves as a safety net for those less economically engaged and at risk of falling into poverty (South African Government, 2015).
A comprehensive review of the City of Tshwane’s supply of public and private housing facilities for the elderly reveals that this grant represents a tiny portion of what is required to retire and live in a safe and secure home. The review revealed that the cost of renting a room or apartment for an older person might range from R3000 to R15 000 per month, excluding meals and other additional services like nursing. In the City of Tshwane, the cost of purchasing an apartment or townhouse for retirement can range from R308 000 to R6 000 000. The property costs do not cover recurring rates, taxes, or any incidental services related to health, everyday living, or socialising. These costs are prohibitive to the majority of South Africans.
Indeed, access to affordable housing is a challenge for most South Africans and, more so, for the elderly who are not as economically active. The spatial distribution of public and private housing for the elderly in the City of Tshwane’s urban and peri-urban areas shows little to no representation in townships and informal settlements. While in historically white areas like the Eastern suburbs of Pretoria, there is a greater variety of options available for housing the elderly. These disproportional patterns illustrate the historical and continued systemic inequality and suggest that in South Africa, ageing comfortably has become an exclusive commodity.
In conclusion, it is well known that South Africa has an affordable housing crisis, and vulnerable groups such as the elderly are often overlooked and languish in overcrowded, multigenerational dwellings without specialised care. This excerpt forms part of exploratory research aimed at understanding the broad socio-spatial housing inequality for the elderly in the City of Tshwane. Indeed, more research is needed to understand the lived experiences of the elderly in varying socio-economic contexts.
Text by Francois de Bruyn – (BSocSci Honours in Geography and Environmental Science student)