Following a public outcry in 2000, the Minister of Social Development commissioned an investigation into the abuse, neglect and ill-treatment of older persons. Public hearings were held in all provinces and older persons told of the abuse they suffered at the hands of their families, communities and government officials. A report was published in 2003, “Mothers and fathers of the Nation, the forgotten people”, that called for action to make the concerns of older persons a priority and to improve the quality of their lives.
On 18 & 19 August 2005, 150 delegates from all over South Africa, representing a wide range of groupings within the older persons sector, attended a Convention at Eskom Conference Centre, Kempton Park convened by the national Department of Social Development and the SA Human Rights Commission. The purpose of the Convention was to facilitate the establishment of an Older Persons Forum that would give older persons a platform and a united voice, unite the sector and consult and lobby government on issues affecting older persons. The Convention listened to the voices of older persons, to the inputs of academics; overseas guest speakers, experts in the field of ageing, advised and assisted the delegates through sharing best practices and different models of Older Persons Forums existing in other countries.
At the convention a Steering Committee was elected that reflected the various sectors in the field of ageing, namely, established organizations for older persons such as NGOs, CBOs and FBOs, rural and traditional leaders, war veterans, the private sector, academics and older persons themselves. The Steering Committee was given six months in which to draw up a constitution, reach out to other organizations, form links with rural communities, raise funds and publicise the formation of the Forum.
The role of the Forum, as perceived by the Convention, was to promote the rights and dignity of older persons, consult and advise government, comment on legislation and policy, foster the growth of community organizations, disseminate information, raise public awareness, interact with the Minister of Social Development, Parliament and other relevant stakeholders.
Post 2005 the SAOPF has established itself as a legal entity, established an office and employed a co-ordinator. Numerous organisations / individuals including older persons, from all sectors in the field of ageing have been recruited as members in an effort to unify the voice of older persons in South Africa. The SAOPF in collaboration with older persons, has been instrumental in drafting the Older Persons’ Charter. In many provinces, provincial fora have been established and now link with the SAOPF on a regular basis. The SAOPF has also engaged with National government and relevant organisations on a variety of issues affecting older persons in an effort to make a difference to the lives of all the older persons in South Africa.
Since the launch of the SAOPF in 2005, forums were established on Provincial, Municipal, Ward and local levels.