This paper examines the origins of the post-1994 social grants programme with a special focus on child support grants. The right to social security is one of the socioeconomic rights guaranteed in the South African Constitution, which establishes a justiciable social contract whereby the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights. Social grants are allocated to pensioners, to parents for child support, and to people suffering from specified disabilities. More than ten million people in a population of 52 million currently receive grants and data suggests it has become a mechanism for fiscal redistribution, and has made a difference to the health status and well-being in poor families. Much of this has been achieved by locating beneficiaries of programmes introduced some years ago but there has also been an extension of grants to new beneficiaries.
Political actors may introduce new policies or change old ones, but the decisions will be influenced by already existing policies as well as the broader political and economic context. Based on interviews with key stakeholders who advocated for the child support grant, this study is anchored in an understanding of complex political forces which shape policies within a particular context. The political actors who championed this social policy were confronted by many challenges yet grants survive despite the fact that they are regularly belittled by journalists, academics and much of the middle class.