A special Covid-19 grant is the right thing to do, Mr President

By Concerned Africans Forum 17 April 2020

Philang Special School children enjoy their meals during the ‘Chefs who Share – the ART of Giving’ veggie box cook-off in Kwa-Thema on September 23, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

In an appeal for a special Covid-19 grant – or a basic income grant for the poorest segment in our society – members of the Concerned Africans Forum (CAF) submitted this open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Cabinet of South Africa.

First, we would like to take this opportunity to commend you and the government for the decisive steps taken to curb and manage the spread of this Covid-19 pandemic. We also would like to commend you for engaging the indigenous healers in our country, and recommend that Minister of Health Dr  Zweli Mkhize continues to engage the members of this institution. Indigenous healers are closely in touch with the poorest of the poor in our nation; let us together find solutions to the challenges facing that sector of our nation, during these trying times.

The Concerned Africans Forum is in agreement with your assessment, as indicated in your press releases, that there are three areas of critical focus as we move forward in curbing this pandemic in South Africa.

First, an intensified public health response to slow down and reduce infections.

Second, a comprehensive package of economic support measures to assist businesses and individuals affected by the pandemic.

Third, a programme of increased social support to protect poor and vulnerable households.

The focus of our statement, Mr President, is the third area.

In this regard we would like to echo calls made from various quarters for our government to strongly consider a special Covid-19 grant or a basic income grant for the poorest segment in our society. There are more than six million citizens who neither have employment nor qualify for social assistance from our government, and hence will have nothing during the trying times of the lockdown period and throughout the course of the pandemic. These six million citizens include many of the 18-59-year-old men and women in our country.

CAF strongly recommends direct income transfers to lower-income households, in the form of a special Covid-19 grant and/or a universal basic income grant. Creativity is needed to speed up delivery, including income transfers via digital payment mechanisms. We appreciate the practical difficulties involved.  

Only if this process proves impossible to administer for all those citizens not on the government system due to the required verification and biometric requirements in place, then another proposal, which is also endorsed by numerous NGOs in the child support sectors, has been put forward. This is the temporary increase of the existing child support grants.  

Here we must remember that many of the children who are no longer recipients of the grant because they fall outside the 18-year-old cut-off, are still living with their respective parents and hence such an increase could also benefit them. We already have them in the government system by virtue of their having been recipients not so long ago.  

It is common cause now that by the end of March 2020, 84 countries had introduced or adapted social protection and jobs programmes in response to Covid-19. The most widely used intervention was social assistance (non-contributory cash transfers). Perhaps SASSA cannot enrol new beneficiaries into the social grant system during lockdown because the required verification and biometric requirements cannot be completed. The quickest and simplest way, however, to channel much-needed cash into poor households is via existing beneficiaries.

The child support grant (CSG) is well established. It is by far the biggest grant in terms of numbers, reaching 12.8 million children – nearly two thirds of all children in South Africa. It is received every month by over seven million adult beneficiaries and contributes to the income of nearly 5.7 million households. Although child support grants are meant to be spent directly on the children to whom they are allocated, they effectively become part of household budgets and help to support entire households. Therefore, increasing this grant is likely to benefit other members of the household.

Mr President, we all know that without some of these desperately needed measures for the poor, they will most certainly fall further into destitution. Many others will most certainly suffer job losses on a large scale, with falling incomes and businesses closing, this situation will simply become critically untenable. Our government must ensure food security and food sovereignty through a coordinated and safe roll-out of food packages in food-stressed neighbourhoods; and furthermore ensure free mobile data and public internet access, to keep the public informed. These measures should accompany the direct income transfers CAF has outlined above.

We must do this not because we are worried about poor communities protesting and causing havoc on our streets, Mr President, but because this is the right thing to do. Period. We remain confident that as your team considers all options open to them, this proposal will also receive the necessary consideration.

CAF would like to take this opportunity to again say thank you to you and the team for a sterling job and for providing the nation with the requisite leadership in this very trying time.  We also want to agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments that indeed, we shall recover. We shall overcome.

All the very best, Mr President. DM

Mongane Serote Aziz Pahad
Oscar van Heerden Fazel Randera
Zanele Dlamini David Monyae
Essop Pahad Moeletsi Mbeki
Sheila Sisulu Mavuso Msimang
Garth le Pere David Maimela
Barney Pityana Max Bokwana
Motlatsi Tsiane Anthoni van Nieukerk
Puseletso Sauli Richard Smith
Chris Landsberg John Tesha




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