NATIONAL NEWS - Civil organisations are calling on government to increase and extend the R350 unemployment social grant until the end of the financial year as 20% to 40% of people who lost their jobs during the lockdown were forced into extreme poverty.
In a Zoom webinar on Monday morning, former public protector Thuli Madonsela, general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions Zwelinzima Vavi and organisations such as C19 Peoples Coalition, Institute for Economic Justice and the Black Sash, endorsed the #PayTheGrant campaign which aimed to fight poverty in the country.
Together, they called on government to increase the R350 social relief of distress grant and the caregiver grant to R585 per month until the end of the financial year in March next year until a comprehensive plan for guaranteed basic income was put in place.
Should the grants be withdrawn, they would leave immense burden on the shoulders of women and females, who are often the primary caregivers, said Madonsela.
“If this grant is withdrawn now in the middle of the impact of the lockdown, women and girls are going to pay the price. Firstly, from the point of view of carrying the burden of care, but secondly, when there is distress, violence increases and those who are vulnerable to that violence would be girls and women,” said Madonsela.
“That is improper, unconstitutional and a violation of social justice and something we will live to regret. If there is injustice, there cannot be sustainable peace.”
But while between 2.2 million and 2.5 million people have lost their jobs during lockdown, about 20% to 40% of them were pushed into extreme poverty when economic activities were halted in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19.
According to research by economics expert and PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Ihsaan Bassier, social grants have pulled four to five million people out of poverty.
“How else do we reach the commitment from government to alleviate poverty if by not taking this necessary opportunity to extend the grant system and address poverty?… There has been a lot of talks on jobs and recovery and it will take time, but in the meantime, something should cushion it. These grants are to help with the Covid-19 [effects] which is far from over,” said Bassier.
Perceptions and opinions that those who lived off social grants were lazy and were not seeking employment were however an insult to the unemployed, said Daddy Mabe of organisation Assembly of the Unemployed and Grant Payment. Mabe had initially lost his job in 2001.
“From 2001 until three years ago, I was able to run around and fend for myself. It is a daily struggle. Sometimes it takes up to 48 hours to get R20. I have two children who are both unemployed. One is a graduate. But people who say those who get grants are lazy – that is an insult,” said Mabe.
The organisations would be meeting with government on Monday to request the grant increase and extension.
Should government decline, Madonsela said they would put further pressure. She said a relook at the expenditure on security for cabinet members, which was too stringent for a country which was not the most dangerous in Africa.
“We know there is no pot of gold to cover this. It’s a question of shifting this money from somewhere else… The amount of security provided to members of the executive is quite excessive for a country like ours,” said Madonsela.