Towards an Instrument for the Portability of Social Security Benefits in the Southern African Development Community

The right to social security is a fundamental human right guaranteed to all persons. However, non-citizens are not always granted access to social security because of discriminatory provisions in national social security laws and the ‘nationality or territoriality principle’ of social security systems (which requires a claimant to be physically present in the country to be eligible for benefits). Such principles and provisions hinder the cross-border portability of social security benefits. This is especially the case in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, where the portability of social security benefits is limited because of the absence of a region-wide social security coordination agreement. SADC national social security systems are diverse in nature. This has led to the conclusion that it is difficult to develop baseline standards for the region and to adopt measures to coordinate the various countries’ social security systems. However, harmonisation of the various social security systems is not imperative to the conclusion of a multilateral social security agreement. All that may be required is a convergence of the social protection policies of the member states. Therefore, diversity in national social security systems and schemes does not preclude the adoption of a regional instrument for social security coordination. SADC member states merely need to specify issues such as the social security risks or benefits (and scope of beneficiaries) to be covered; equality of treatment in the respective national systems; exportability of benefits; aggregation of insurance periods; determination of the legislation applicable; and institutional and administrative cooperation.