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Danish Center for Welfare Studies

Social policy responses to COVID-19: New issues, old solutions?

Author: Marianne S. Ulriksen
Published: In Leisering, L (ed.). One Hundred Years of Social Protection – The Changing Social Question in Brazil, India, China, and South Africa, Palgrave Macmillan, pp.221-262.

This chapter addresses the following question: what ideas and concepts underpinned social security policies for the elderly in apartheid South Africa? What is striking about the South African case during apartheid is how the idea of social responsibility, justified with reference to civilization arguments, was constructed to serve a discriminatory, racialised system. Advocating the idea of separate development and independent nations allowed the white political elite to focus on the welfare of their “own people” while blinding themselves to the obvious responsibility the government had for other racial groups. The white regime could then construct social support for other population groups, for instance old-age pensions, as charity to people for whom the government was not directly responsible. However, the government could not maintain the regime’s ideational foundation because it had constructed social responsibility based on the different civilisation levels of various ethnic groups—an idea already dying out in the mid-twentieth century and belatedly in South Africa. The construction of a state’s social responsibility and its consequent impacts on policy are highly relevant areas of research, and the apartheid state is a reminder of how far policy can be pushed with reference to ideational and normative justifications.

Find the chapter here