My family eat this money too: pension sharing and self-respect among Zulu grandmothers

  • Valerie Møller Quality of Life Unit, Centre for Social and Development Studies, University of Natal (Durban)
  • Ayanda Sotshongaye Quality of Life Unit, Centre for Social and Development Studies, University of Natal (Durban)


The non-contributory state old-age pension is one of the main sources of income for poor households in South Africa. It is usually assumed that pension income is shared by co-residents in multigeneration households. A study undertaken among urban, peri-urban and rural female pensioners in late 1995 explored the significance of pension income for the household budgets of multigeneration households. In individual and focus-group interviews with 50 grandmothers who were all pensioners, the study inquired into the meaning of pension income for family welfare and the self-respect and empowerment of pension recipients. The study found that pensioners regarded the pension as individual rather than family income, although pension sharing was the norm. The amount of the pension was inadequate for family needs, although most households applied numerous methods of adding value to pension monies. The pension enhanced the self-respect of older women who prided themselves in their economic self-reliance and creditworthiness. Grandmothers derived pleasure and self-esteem in pension sharing but were also frustrated that their own needs were neglected in the interests of family welfare. To increase the benefits of pensions to older women, the grandmothers recommended that the income-earning opportunities of the younger generation should be improved. Widows, particularly those who likened government transfers to remittances from their deceased husbands, looked to the government to provide education and jobs for their children and grandchildren in future.


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