In 1995, a year into his presidency, Nelson Mandela announced he would be donating a third of his presidential salary to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
Prompted by the sight of street children near Parliament in the Cape Town winter, Mandela aimed to improve the lives of children whose parents had died of Aids-related illnesses, children who had been abandoned on the streets, and the poor and disabled.
Fast-forward 23 years, and current president Cyril Ramaphosa has followed suit, announcing in May this year during his Presidency Budget Vote that he would donate half his R3.6m annual salary to a fund that will be managed by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, directing the proceeds to worthy community-based projects.
After being presented with options, Ramaphosa has also chosen children. The fund will be launched on Mandela Day on Wednesday.
Early childhood development
However, the foundation has already made some headway through The Mandela Initiative in earmarking some development areas to prioritise, one of which is early childhood development (ECD).
The foundation roped in the expertise of dialogue analyst Sumaya Hendricks, who helped set up its new poverty and inequality unit, which also encompasses early childhood development in its key focus areas.
“Research has shown that the cognitive, emotional and social development of children all happens before the age of six,” Hendricks says.
“According to the South African Early Childhood Review from last year, if a four-year-old child is in one of the 20% of poorest households, there’s only a 50% chance of them attending some sort of education programme.
“Universal access to schooling in South Africa unfortunately only starts in Grade 1 with free schooling. That means a child from a poor family would already be entering at a disadvantage,” she says.
“Schools assume a child will come in with a form of basic competency, but many children are entering at a disadvantage.”
The Mandela Initiative Report, which will also be launched next week, states that while some early childhood services, notably in the areas of health, are mainly provided by the government, others have relied heavily on not-for-profit organisations (NPOs) for childcare and group learning programmes.
NPO sector ‘overstretched’
The NPO sector delivering services to young children is, according to the report “overstretched and under-resourced”, and even where subsidies are available, there are problems with registration and compliance.
Hendricks and her team have been conducting research in Diepsloot, an informal settlement in northern Johannesburg, and in Bekkersdal in Westonaria, western Gauteng. There they have met with ECD forums representing informal crèches in childcare centres to access the needs on the ground, and their barriers to accessing registration and funding to create more conducive areas of learning and development for children.
“Our focus is answering how we give children from poor and working class families the best chance at a prosperous future,'” Hendricks says.
“Our five objectives are highlighting the field of ECD as a tool for fighting intergenerational poverty, advocating policy changes that need to happen, improving the conditions at the centres, bringing exposure to the challenges that informal centres experience, and increasing awareness with parents and caregivers on the importance of early childhood development.
“A key part of what we want to do is elevating the voices of grass roots and community organisations, and connecting them with government. We have ECD practitioners who will be recognised by our chief executive, Sello Hatang, in the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture for active citizenship. Both are from Diepsloot, and both saw a need in their community to create centres to stimulate children during the day.”
But it is hard going for most of these centres. They struggle to become registered because they don’t have title deeds to the land on which their centres are built, and they therefore cannot receive funding from the department of social development. In addition, most of these creches do not meet the regulation standards for space, without features such as designated “sick rooms”, for example.
“Some of the centres are small and really cramped. They’re really not getting any support,” says Hendricks.
“If one gets funding from the state, it’s R15 per child per day but it’s unlikely those centres will get that registration and funding because of the stringent requirements.
“Obviously, the requirements are important to make sure the children are safe, but if you know, as a caring government, that informal settlement centres have no way to meet the requirements, particularly from a space point of view, why not create an enabling environment?”
Hendricks said it was significant that Ramaphosa will be investing his earnings in the early childhood development programme.
“If the president can say, ‘Early childhood development is important to me and I’m willing to put my money towards it’, we’re hoping it shows leadership in the sector and inspires others to also give it priority.”
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