The Politics Behind the Non-Contributory Old Age Social Pensions in Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa

44 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2010

Date Written: June 1, 2007


Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana comprise a cluster of southern African countries which provide monthly non-contributory benefits to their elderly citizens. This paper seeks to understand the differing political and socio-economic conditions in which the three pensions evolved and suggest what implications pensions may have for the nature of the citizen-state relationship. The paper argues that the motivation behind the long-established South African and Namibian pensions was ‘supply-driven’ to serve political ends. This has shifted over time and today all three pensions are increasingly ‘demand-driven’, that is, they serve welfare objectives of reducing poverty and promoting equality, although they must still remain acceptable to political and economic elites. This is demonstrated by analysing both ideological and practical facets of the pensions, including the design, the institutional home of the pension and the influence of geopolitical factors. It leads to the conclusion that a bond has built between citizen and state based on three characteristics. Firstly, their ability to foster social solidarity by reinforcing the value and contribution of the elderly to the household and restoring to pensioners a regained sense of citizenship; secondly the persistence of pensions which then become entrenched in the expectations of the citizenry, even before the sense of social contract develops in the political arena; and finally, acknowledgement by the state of its role in and moral commitment to provide welfare to its citizens, and the political expediency of doing so. These three mutually-reinforcing characteristics, maintain the momentum of the pension which, in turn, reinforces the contract.

Keywords: Soouth Africa, Non-Contributory Old Age Social Pensions, Lesotho, Namibia

Suggested Citation

Pelham, Larissa, The Politics Behind the Non-Contributory Old Age Social Pensions in Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa (June 1, 2007). Chronic Poverty Research Centre Working Paper No. 83, Available at SSRN: or

Larissa Pelham (Contact Author)

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

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