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At least 1.5m people from civil society call on MPs to reject ‘unconstitutional’ 2021 Budget

At least 1.5m people from civil society call on MPs to reject ‘unconstitutional’ 2021 Budget
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The current Budget will cut public spending by R265-billion over the next three years in areas that directly affect human rights, say social movements, civil society organisations, trade unions and individuals in an open letter.

Since it was published, the 2021 Budget has been called out as unconstitutional and austere from many corners. More than 200 social movements, civil society organisations, trade unions and individuals, in an open letter to members of Parliament, have endorsed a call for MPs to reject the Budget and send it back to the drawing board. The current Budget will cut public spending by R265-billion over the next three years in areas which directly affect human rights.

The signatories of the open letter represent 1.5 million people, according to Section27, one of the signatories.

The letter urges the members of Parliament to use their constitutional powers to send the Budget back to the executive. They should demand that it protects human rights and finds an alternative way of managing public debt, the letter states.

“This demand is made because of the scale of the attack the 2021 Budget makes on public service delivered by government, which will negatively impact the majority of people in the country,” Section27 said.

It estimates that public spending will plummet by R265-billion over the next three years. The cuts slice into health, social grants and basic education.

The letter was sent to the Select and Standing Committee on Finance on 9 March. This committee is the first to be able to send the Budget back and make recommendations on it, says Section27.

The committee noted the public submissions regarding “accountability to the Constitution” but did not make any recommendations on it.

“We say that this is an austerity fiscal framework that lays the burden of ‘fiscal consolidation’ firmly on the backs of the poor and working classes, attacking our constitutional rights while handing out tax breaks to corporates and high-income earners – and therefore must be rejected,” it explained.

The 2021 Budget has come under fire since it was published on 24 February.

The Black Sash and Budget Justice Coalition have been among the civil society organisations which publicly stated that the Budget fails to address the present humanitarian crisis and the cuts undermine the government’s constitutional mandate.

The 2021 Budget signals a further erosion of basic human rights to basic education, healthcare and social grants – all of which are protected by the Constitution, argued Michael Sachs before Parliament. He is the former head of National Treasury’s Budget Office and is the acting chairperson of the Financial and Fiscal Commission.

This is the first time a Budget has been tabled “that unambiguously envisaged a retrogression in socioeconomic rights set out in the Bill of Rights” – a regression “likely to extend beyond the three years of the medium-term expenditure framework until debt had stabilised”.

Senior researchers at the Developmental, Capable and Ethical State research division at the Human Sciences Research Council have also questioned whether the Budget can be justified. If not, then it is not only trampling on the Constitution but also on numerous international obligations.

This Budget “in effect upends 25 years of using government spending as a core tool for redistribution,” writes Dr Neva Makgetla, a senior economist at Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies. She argues that money is not being spent where it counts and will have dire consequences for social and economic growth.

The open letter is published in full below, along with the list of signatories.

Open letter to the honorable members of the Standing and Select Committees on Finance, Parliament of South Africa

As social movements, trade unions, civil society and 130 concerned individuals, we call on Parliament to reject the 2021 Budget and protect human rights.

The approval of the 2021 Budget by our elected representatives in Parliament will result in the widespread violation of many of the rights enshrined in the Constitution. The Budget proposes deep funding cuts to public services amounting to hundreds of billions of rands which will have negative impacts on the majority of people in the country, while taxes on high incomes and corporate profits will be reduced. The real cuts to funding for education, health services, social grants and other critical areas of service delivery are indefensible in light of the extreme levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment we are facing in South Africa.

Over 18 million people who rely on the income support provided by social grants face a real decrease in the value of their grants. The paltry R10 increase to the child support social grant will not even buy a loaf of bread! Millions of learners in rural and township schools face rising class sizes due to a lack of teachers because of the reduction in funding for education. The public health system will be weakened by cuts to primary healthcare services and to public hospitals, while 300,000 people will not receive access to vital antiretroviral medicines due to budget cuts to the HIV/Aids programme. The erosion of public services will further entrench the systemic discrimination against womxn, particularly black womxn, who will, again, have to step in to fill the ever widening gaps left by the state’s abrogation of its responsibilities.

The cuts to public services proposed in Budget 2021 break the Constitution’s promise to “improve the quality of life of all”.

The Constitution states that the Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of democracy in our country. It requires the state to “heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”. These rights include the right to basic education, the right to healthcare services, the right to social security and protection, the right to food, the right to water and sanitation, the right to housing, the right to a healthy environment, the right to fair labour practices and the right to redress and restitution of land.

The 2021 Budget tabled by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on behalf of the executive directly attacks these rights with severe funding cuts totalling R265-billion over the next three years, including:

  • R67.2-billion to be cut from spending on public health;
  • R36-billion to be cut from spending on social grants, resulting in a real decrease in income for millions of recipients of the child support grant, disability grant, foster care grant and the older persons grant; and
  • R9-billion is taken from public schools, meaning the state will spend R1,000 less per learner enrolled in the 2022 academic year compared with the 2020 academic year in real terms.

The list goes on. In total, government has proposed that “consolidated non-interest spending will contract at an annual real average rate of 5.2%.”  In rand terms, the austerity measures mean that government plans to spend R2,700 less per person on public services in real terms in 2022 compared with what it was spending in 2019.

Moreover, as the Financial and Fiscal Commission has noted in its submission to Parliament on the 2021 Budget, “the erosion of real budgets for basic rights set out in the Constitution may well continue, even beyond the tabled medium-term plan”.

We believe that the 2021 Budget is unconstitutional.

While many socioeconomic rights are subject to “progressive realisation within the state’s available resources”, this does not mean that government can simply assert that cutting funding for rights is necessary to reduce public debt.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which South Africa signed up to in 1994 and ratified in 2015, sets global standards for protecting human rights. The committee has said that for countries to justify cutting the funding for socioeconomic rights, they must clearly demonstrate that the cuts are:

  • Temporary, meaning they will stay in place only so long as they are absolutely necessary;
  • Reasonable, meaning that they are the most effective way of achieving government’s larger aims;
  • Necessary, with alternative financing measures, including income, wealth and corporate taxes, exhausted;
  • Proportionate, in that their human rights benefits outweigh their costs;
  • Not directly nor indirectly discriminatory – this applies not only to specific budget cuts but to “fiscal consolidation” as a whole, which must be based on a fair sharing of burdens between social groups such as the rich and poor, the old and the young, womxn and men, present and future generations;
  • Implemented transparently and only after completing an assessment of their potential impact, which must be based on the meaningful participation of affected groups; and
  • Subject to meaningful review and accountability procedures.

We believe that the 2021 Budget fails to meet these standards.

We therefore, as social movements, trade unions, civil society organisations and concerned individuals, reject the 2021 Budget tabled by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on 24 February 2021.

We call on Parliament to send the Budget back to the executive and require it to meet its socioeconomic rights obligations and consider alternative ways of managing our public debt.

Signed by:

This letter is endorsed by more than 200 signatories, including trade unions, social movements, NGOs and more than 100 individuals. If you would like to sign as an organisation or individual, click here: your signature will be added to the list. The full list which continues to be updated can be accessed here. A copy of this letter is available here. DM/MC

Trade unions

  1. Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu)
  2. Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU)
  3. Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union (Demawusa)
  4. Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu)
  5. National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu)
  6. National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw)
  7. Public Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Pawusa)
  8. Public Services International (PSI)
  9. South African Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union (Sadsawu)
  10. South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu)
  11.  South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu)

Social movements

  1. #PayTheGrants
  2. Johannesburg Informal Traders Platform
  3. Abahlali base Freedom Park
  4. KeepLeft
  5. Abahlali baseMjondolo
  6. Land Rights Organisation of South Africa
  7. African Water Commons Collective
  8. Makause Community Development Forum
  9. Alrapark and MacKenzieville Housing Committee
  10. Marikana Youth Development Organisation
  11. Amadiba Crisis Committee
  12. Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda
  13. Amandla Port Elizabeth Forum
  14. Progressive Organisations Forum (POF)
  15. Assembly of the Unemployed
  16. Primrose Backyard Dwellers Forum
  17. Back2Work Campaign
  18. Right2Know Campaign
  19. Black Consciousness Movement United
  20. Robertsham Tenants Association
  21. Botshabelo Unemployed Movement
  22. Rural Women Assembly South Africa
  23. Brinville Unemployment Forum
  25. C19 People’s Coalition
  26. Sandvlei United Community Organization
  27. Concerned Community of Alexandra
  28. Sisonke Revolutionary Movement
  29. Eastern Cape Water Caucus
  30. Socialism from Below
  31. Equal Education
  32. South African Green Revolutionary Council
  33. Extinction Rebellion
  34. Tenants Association of Robertsham
  35. Fight Inequality Alliance Gauteng
  36. The Social Process NPC
  37. Fight Inequality Alliance South Africa
  38. Unemployed People’s Movement
  39. Free State Rural Women Assembly
  40. United Front
  41. Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee
  42. Waterberg Women Advocacy Organization
  43. Housing Assembly
  44. Westside Park Community Crisis Committee
  45. Inyanda National Land Movement

Civil society organisations

  2. Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group
  3. Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC)
  4. Polisee Space
  5. Black Sash
  6. Rural Health Advocacy Project
  7. Centre for Child Law
  8. Sàm Soya Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (SSCDHR)
  9. Children’s Resource centre
  10. Section27
  11. Co-operative and Policy Alternative Centre (Copac)
  12. Siyakhanyisa HIV/AIDS Support Group
  13. Equal Education Law Centre
  14. South African Youth Business Forum
  15. Ficksburg Community Advice Office
  16. Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei)
  17. Firstsource Money
  18. Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII)
  19. groundWork
  20. The Rock of Hope
  21. Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ)
  22. Trade & Industrial Policies Strategies (TIPS)
  23. International Labour Research and Information Group (Ilrig)
  24. Trust for Community Outreach and Education (Tcoe)
  25. Masithobelane Support group
  26. Tshebedisano Support Network
  27. National Labour and Economic Development Institute (Naledi)
  28. Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability
  29. Open Secrets
  30. Women on Farms Project
  31. People’s Health Movement South Africa
  32. Workers World Media Productions

Individuals and academics 

  1. Aasif Bulbulia
  2. Adam Aboobaker
  3. Alex Lenferna
  4. Alfred Mafuleka
  5. Aliya Chikte
  6. Amaarah Garda
  7. Amalia Britton
  8. Andile Cele
  9. Andries  Du Toit
  10. Anselmo  Matusse
  11. Benjamin Chisari
  12. Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla
  13. Bud Wells
  14. Busi Sibeko
  15. Christelle Terreblanche
  16. Chulumanco Mihlali Nkasela
  17. Colin Young
  18. Courtney Morgan
  19. Desiree Lewis
  20. Dick Forslund
  21. Dominic Brown
  22. Dr Claudia Beck-Reinhardt
  23. Dr Dale Mckinley
  24. Dr. Sara Black
  25. Ebrahim Francis
  26. Ebrahim-Khalil Hassen
  27. Eddie Cottle
  28. Edward Wethli
  29. Ephraime Mosibi
  30. Fatima  Vally
  31. Fatima Moosa
  32. Fowzia Battle
  33. Frank Matose
  34. Funzani Mtembu
  35. George  Mudimu
  36. Gilad Isaacs
  37. Gumani Tshimomola
  38. Guy Patrice Dkamela
  39. Heather Geswent
  40. Hector Casta​ñón
  41. Ihsaan Bassier
  42. Jackson Matlala
  43. Janneke  Weidema
  44. Jason Bell
  45. Jay Kruuse
  46. Jeff Rudin
  47. Jens Horber
  48. Jerome Aaron
  49. Jesse Harber
  50. Johan Barnard
  51. John Reynolds
  52. Johnstorom
  53. Josh Rosenberg
  54. Josh Rosenberg
  55. Joshua Budlender
  56. Judy Favish
  57. Julia Eccles
  58. Julian Hare
  59. Kamini Naidoo
  60. Karabo Monatisi
  61. Katharine Hall
  62. Kirsten Pearson
  63. Lesley Green
  64. Lumkile Mondi
  65. Lungisa Ngapi
  66. Matthew Kensett
  67. Michael Koetaan
  68. Michael Smith
  69. Michelle Groenewald
  70. Mila Harding
  71. Mohammed Abrahams
  72. Mongi Henda
  73. Monique Van Vuuren
  74. Mthobisi Ndwandwe
  75. Mukondeleli Ramabulana
  76. Neil Coleman
  77. Nimi Hoffmann
  78. Nkanyiso  Gumede
  79. Nombulelo Nyezi
  80. Patrick Bond
  81. Paula Cardoso
  82. Phelisa Nkomo
  83. Rachel Adams
  84. Rasigan Maharajh
  85. Rekang Jankie
  86. Renee Louw
  87. Richard Pule
  88. Sacha Knox
  89. Salim Vally
  90. Sam  Ashman
  91. Samantha Waterhouse
  92. Shabashni Moodley
  93. Shaeera  Kalla
  94. Shakira Qwabe
  95. Simone Cupido
  96. Siphesihle Makamu
  97. Siphiwe Kubheka
  98. Sonia Phalatse
  99. Suzanne Hotz
  100. Tatenda  Zingoni
  101. Teboho  Tshepe
  102. Tess  Peacock
  103. Theolyn Simons
  104. Tlamelo Mothudi
  105. Trizah Khanye
  106. Tshiamo Malatji
  107. Valentina Montanaro
  108. Vanessa Farr
  109. Veli Mnisi
  110. Virginia Mackenny
  111. Vishnu Padayachee
  112. Vishwas Satgar
  113. Wafaa Abdurahman
  114. Wendy Dube
  115. William Shoki
  116. Yolo Mambi
  117. Zama Mthunzi
  118. Zimisele  Nanto
  119. Zolile Prusente

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Noble goals, but where will the money come from?

    How many recipients volunteer for public service? Clean up a suburb, roadway, park, school? People sit amid their own trash while complaining about the social grants not being increased enough. As a nation we have no pride, only rights!

  • Lee Richardson says:

    I don’t understand. We have run out money. We pay more in servicing our debt than literally anything else. Call us when it’s unconstitutional to be broke..

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


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