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COVID-19

Black Sash report reveals extent of issues experienced by Social Relief of Distress grant recipients

The Black Sash report notes that unnamed Sassa officials accepted R50 bribes from people wanting to jump long queues in order to receive the grant. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

The publication by the human rights organisation points to several problems with the Social Relief of Distress grant — including a lack of clear information, mixed messaging and an understanding of the complexities of using the grant to try and uplift one’s circumstances. 

The lived realities of people during the Covid-19 pandemic were complex, said researcher Candice Groenewald during a virtual launch of a new report by Black Sash on people’s experiences of applying for and receiving the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant. 

The report was launched during the webinar and is titled: It’s a Lifeline but it’s Not Enough: The Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant, Basic Income Support, and Social Protection in South Africa.

The grant was announced in April 2020 and implemented in May of the same year, as one of the relief measures implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic. Recipients received R350, while Black Sash indicated the food poverty line was R624. 

Black Sash’s research was undertaken in January 2022 via telephone calls to 19 participants broken down into 13 females and six males, aged between 22 and 56. According to the report, all participants lived with children.

According to the research, people appreciated the assistance provided by the grant. “My life is better because, when I get the money, I can take it out, buy food, and I feel happy because I don’t have to beg or ask anyone else who has more than me,” said one of the participants. 

Participants highlighted long queues, difficulties with connectivity to apply for the grant and at the same time, waiting for hours to receive their grants at post office branches and getting told there was no money available for them to receive their grants. Others reported unnamed South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) officials accepting R50 bribes from people wanting to jump long queues. 

Among the biggest themes in the report is hunger and food security. According to the report, participants’ food consumption changed. Participants reported skipping meals and borrowing money from friends, family and loan sharks. Half of the participants also reported applying for food parcels but only two reported receiving one. One participant described the social agency’s food parcels as a ‘scam’ while another fell prey to a “fake link” that charged R7 per day in airtime costs. There was also insufficient information available on how to apply for food vouchers, leading people to become vulnerable to scams. One participant said they tried to apply for a food parcel with their ward councillor, but was told these parcels were only for orphans. 

Groenewald added that one aspect that needed to be looked at was the limitations to accessing these grants which could have broader implications for transactional relationships, especially among young vulnerable women. “We know that young women are desperate to survive” and ease of access to these kinds of social support could “potentially lead to difficult decisions about survival”. 

When asked what the organisation would be doing going forward, Black Sash executive director Rachel Bukasa said the organisation is currently engaging the Presidency on the SRD grant and other forms of basic income protection. On Thursday 19 May, Black Sash will launch its book on the grants crisis titled, “Hands off Our Grants”. DM

 

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