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Court victory for elderly as EC social development ordered to pay R1.5m subsidies

The high court sitting in Makhanda on Wednesday gave the department till mid-October to pay.
The high court sitting in Makhanda on Wednesday gave the department till mid-October to pay.
Image: 123RF/skycinema

Eastern Cape social development department must cough up over R1.5m in subsidies to 25 organisations for the elderly whose funding it unilaterally slashed during lockdown.

The high court sitting in Makhanda on Wednesday gave the department till mid-October to pay, with interest, all subsidies owed to the organisations over the past six months.

In a hard-hitting judgment, Judge Judith Roberson slams as “regrettable” the department’s opposition to paying the subsidies especially as it involved the “needs of older persons and their constitutional right to social services and dignity, and even the right to life”.

The department stopped funding the 25 organisations during the midst of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying lockdown, despite having contracts with each one of them to provide food and other vital support services to more than 1000 elderly people centred mostly in the impoverished former Ciskei area of the Eastern Cape.

In a belated letter to the organisations in June, the department indicated that the prohibition on movement of the elderly and these caregiver organisations meant that they were not legally able to provide services and the department therefore no longer intended to fund them despite the contracts that were in place. By then the department had already not paid the organisations’ April, May or June subsidies.

Each organization daily provides food, nursing and enrichment programmes to elderly people at day care centres. Many of the elderly have chronic heart or other conditions including alzheimers or dementia.

When the lockdown was announced, these organisations shifted their daily care model to home based care where they would instead visit those who attended the centres and feed, bathe and care for them. But, the department said it would not pay them as this would constitute wasteful expenditure.

Imbumba Association for the Aged took the department to court on behalf of all its member organisations.

Imbumba was represented pro bono by Webber Wentzel attorneys.

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