Ageing in Sub-Saharan Africa: Who will care for the carers?

Hanlie Smuts -- Tue, 11/08/2016 - 13:36

Ageing in Sub-Saharan Africa: Who will care for the carers?

According to Prof Jaco Hoffman from the Optentia Research Focus Area on the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal), the world is facing a silent revolution – population ageing. Research indicates that for the first time in history there are more people over the age of 65 on earth than children aged five years and younger.

It is this challenge that is intensely looked at in his new book entitled Ageing in Sub-Saharan Africa:  Spaces and practices in care.

Holding the new book edited by himself and Katrien Pype:  Prof Jaco Hoffman with ‘Ageing in Sub-Saharan Africa: Spaces and Practices of Care’.


Prof Hoffman is the leader of the sub-programme Ageing and Generational Dynamics in Africa (AGenDA) at the Optentia Research Focus Area on the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal). He explains that his research is not necessarily about the elderly, but about ageing across the course of life. Prof Hoffman and his team look at ageing as a process and at how generations function in relation to each other. He illustrated this by citing the reality of grandmothers raising orphaned grandchildren: a picture of the South African family. 

According to Prof Hoffman, three aspects drive the ageing of the global population: People tend to live longer thanks to better medical technology and intervention (longevity). While this fact is in play, the fertility rate has also fallen dramatically. A combination of these two trends, together with the impact of migration of people from rural to urban areas as well as transnationally, lies behind the ageing of the world population as older people are often left behind or opt to stay in their known rural settings.

Africa however, still has the youngest population globally. Currently there are around seven billion people on the face of the earth. By 2050, that number is set to rise to nine billion people of whom an estimated one billion will come from Africa. There is even the possibility that the number can rise to 10 billion, in which case two billion will come from Africa. Africa certainly has a youthful glow about her.

This leaves Africa with what Prof Hoffman calls a youth “bulge”. “Our task is to harness this bulge into a demographic dividend by means of skills and training,” he says. A rise of almost 300% of the absolute number of older people in Africa (from 43 million to 170 million), leaves us with even more to do. “Some kind of formal long-term care system must be put into place to ensure the proper care of these older citizens as families in Africa do not always have the capacity to adequately care for their older members in need. These formal systems should not be equated to institutionalisation”, adds Prof Hoffman.

Ageing must be looked at against the backdrop of trends such as poverty, migration – often the urbanisation of poverty, HIV/Aids, general health issues (specifically the rise in non-communicable diseases) and pressures experienced by families. It is in this context that the debate on care is conducted. Although there is a relatively large research corpus available on the care that older people provide to younger family members, the care provided by younger generations for older generations in need is under-researched. The question remains: Who will care for the carers?

Ageing in Sub-Saharan Africa: Spaces and Practices of Care by Jaco Hoffman and Katrien Pype, was published by Policy Press / University of Chicago Press under the ISBN 1447325257 and is obtainable in hard and electronic format on



Vaal Triangle Campus
Hendrik van Eck Blvd Vanderbijlpark
South Africa