The 1944 Pension Laws Amendment Bill: old-age security policy in South Africa in historical perspective, ca. 1920 - 1960

  • A. Sagner Institute of Ethnology and African Studies, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany


This paper summarizes the first results of ongoing research into the origins and social and economic consequences of the 1944 Pension Laws Amendment Bill, which broadened the South African state pension system to include the African population for the first time. Preliminary analysis suggests that the emergence of modern social provision for the white elderly (1928) and the African elderly (1944) is due to somewhat different causes, albeit in both cases the introduction being associated with capitalist industrialization. The Social Pension Legislation in the 1930s and 1940s took up the poor relief notion of deservingness. Similarly, benefit levels mirrored, among other things, the anxiety of political actors about the danger of driving out family help by introducing public schemes. Although the state pensions for Africans were totally inadequate, they quite early on became decisive for the economic survival of many households. It appears that they were mainly spent on food and clothing. Surprisingly, de facto old-age pensions for Africans increased significantly in the 1950s. In contrast to the state's view of welfare, older Africans felt entitled to a social pension. Finally, it is argued that the linking of the old-age pension to chronological age did not lead to the emergence of an old age as a chronologically defined stage of life because pre-industrial life-course models organized around the notion of "building the umzi" (homestead) were still very much alive, at least in many rural areas during the 1940s and 1950s. Considering the empirical, theoretical and policy relevance of the South African pension scheme and the paucity of knowledge about its timing and inner workings, further (historical) research is called for.


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