Maverick Citizen

Civil society calls for Covid-19 special grants to be extended – demands meeting with Ramaphosa ‘in next 48 hours’

By Mark Heywood 12 October 2020

Senior citizens queue for their monthly social grants outside Jabulani Mall in Soweto. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

A group of more than 80 civil society organisations, including COSATU and SAFTU, have demanded that the government “extend the period of socio-economic relief to the poor”.

Echoing their call, the NEDLAC community constituency has requested an urgent meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa within the next 48 hours to discuss a looming humanitarian crisis. The group, which is fully supported by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, now the Social Justice Chair at the University of Stellenbosch, is concerned that the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress special grant of R350 and the caregivers grant of R500 will come to an end this month. They have issued a joint statement that they have made publicly available for further signatories and support.

 It can be read here.

The #PayTheGrants campaign, which has also set up a Facebook page to garner support, proposes that both grants be increased to R585 per month, a figure they base on the food poverty line, and be extended for at least five months until the end of financial year 2020/2021. 

They link the extension to a final decision on introducing a year basic income grant (BIG), something mooted by the ANC earlier this year.

Currently 12.7 million people benefit from these grants. The Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ), whose board and staff are made up of prominent economists, has produced a fact sheet on ‘The case for extending the Covid-19 special grants’. It says this would cost the government R37.3-billion and save 6.8 million people from hunger – a small price to avert a looming “humanitarian disaster”.

The #PayTheGrants statement warns that “Without immediate intervention, these benefits will be terminated at the end of October, causing a humanitarian crisis with approximately 6.8 million people plunged below the food poverty line. Thus, both these grants must be extended as a matter of urgency.”

Speaking at a virtual press conference today organised by the C-19 People’s Coalition, an alliance of over 400 civil society organisations, Madonsela said it was “Courageous of the coalition to take this stance at a time when finances are low. We know there’s no pot of gold, but it’s too easy to offload on the poor who are considered to be dispensable. I support this initiative.”

She argued that “The impact of the lockdown will be with us for some time and therefore retaining the grant is extremely important.”

In particular, Madonsela stressed that “If we withdraw the grants we will be asking women and girls of South Africa to bear the cost. We will be taking the burden from the shoulders of the state and putting it on women and girls. 

“Violence will increase. We know that happens when there is distress. That is improper. That is unconstitutional.”

Zwelinzima Vavi, speaking on behalf of SAFTU, complained that the country’s second biggest labour federation is “excluded from NEDLAC and all other forums for transformation”. He said the grants and even a BIG could only be “a stop-gap measure as we address the real reasons behind an economic system that reproduces poverty, inequality and unemployment. 

“People’s best chance to escape poverty is employment at a living wage,” said Vavi.

The press conference was joined by an array of community activists who gave faces to the hunger that now blights every community.

Prince Tamane, a youth activist in Gauteng, said that “any lapse in this payment will put many households into deeper distress than before”.

Zama Mthunzi, from Equal Education, told of how “a lot of people go to bed without eating. We had to go to court to force the reinstatement of the national school nutrition programme. Young people were pushed to the streets to survive.”

Daddy Mabe, a grant claimant from the Assembly of the Unemployed, told the government it should understand that “There’s nothing without a cost. One looks around our areas and sees the vandalism of infrastructure like that belonging to PRASA, because people try everything to survive. 

“We don’t want to promote crime so we need help. Make it difficult for people doing wrong things to justify their actions. People say ‘if I stop people from doing crime what do I have to offer them to survive?’”

Mabe says: “This is a very serious moral question. On the ground we have evidence of the repercussions of our failure as a nation to show solidarity. It’s an insult to think that people who want grants are lazy. 

“I lost my employment in 2001. Until three years ago I was able to run around and make a living. Sometimes it takes me 48 hours to raise R20. But now it’s too difficult even to do that.”

The activists are backed by several university-based research institutes such as the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town. Ihsaan Bassier, a researcher on the NIDS-CRAM survey asked government to consider “three simple facts”:

  1. “Covid-19 has devastated employment. These losses will persist after the lockdown. The quick gains that came when SA eased restrictions have now been exhausted.
  2. “In this context the grants can – and have – demonstrably decreased poverty. There are one million fewer people in extreme poverty because of the SRD grant and millions more through the caregiver grants.
  3.  “SA has a uniquely high poverty rate given our income. Yet we have system capability. There is no justification for allowing the rate of extreme poverty we have.”

The call to #PayTheGrants comes on the eve of World Food Day on Friday this week, and in the wake of the NIDS-CRAM “Wave 2” report. It is days before a special sitting of Parliament to approve an economic recovery plan and also barely a week before the medium term budget policy statement (MTBPS) which activists fear will set austerity measures in stone.

Once again, activists are frustrated that the government isn’t listening – at least, not to them.

According to Isobel Frye, speaking for the community constituency at NEDLAC, the National Treasury told them last week that “it is not considering the option of extending grants”. She claimed that when they offered an opportunity to share research, they were told by the Treasury that “there is no opportunity to engage”.

Asked what would happen if government refuses to #PayTheGrants, a spokesperson for the Black Sash said that all options, including litigation, were now being considered. 

Paying the grants is considered a “constitutional obligation” linked to rights to dignity, health, basic education and sufficient food and water.

Madonsela had the last word when she talked of “the need to revisit the privileges of people in government, including their personal security which is superfluous. It’s excessive. 

“Money can be shifted from there and from other places. We don’t want women to pay for government’s mistakes – again.” DM/MC

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  • No more grants. Won’t happen. No money. Sorry Mark, your heros spent the money! On what? The odd Porsche or Rolls. Nothing big you know.

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