Maverick Citizen

POVERTY ALLEVIATION OP-ED

South Africa needs a comprehensive Social Protection Floor to ensure food security for all

South Africa needs a comprehensive Social Protection Floor to ensure food security for all
Women receive bread at a food handout in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 1 August 2020. The author argues that the vast majority of people living in South Africa are forced to make a daily choice between food and energy.(Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

Food insecurity is an issue of accessibility and affordability. The food is there, the shop shelves are full but people cannot afford to purchase it. The vast majority of people living in South Africa are forced to make a daily choice between food and energy.

Almost 6.5 million people in South Africa go to bed hungry at night, the majority of whom are women, according to StatsSA. It is hard to imagine that South Africa, a country that is not food insecure, has a hunger problem.

As a country, there are sufficient food resources in South Africa, but at the household level, food insecurity is a major crisis.  Black Sash recently held a Khuluma — a public discussion — on women and food security. Women on Farms Project shared a harrowing story of how several of its members report boiling water in foodless pots to, at the very least, give their children the sense that “food is coming”.

Food insecurity is an issue of accessibility and affordability. The food is there, the shop shelves are full — but people cannot afford to purchase it. The vast majority of people living in South Africa are forced to make a daily choice between food and energy. In July, those who made the choice to have energy faced hours of rolling blackouts, making what little food they had sour or needing to be consumed much quicker than intended.

What people eat is also important, and when faced with rolling blackouts, inconsistent electricity supply, or unaffordable electricity, people have had to make the choice to buy more nonperishable, often less nutritious food.

A new approach to food

A Black Sash commissioned research report, Children, Social Assistance and Food Security, found that the Child Support Grant (CSG) as it currently functions is inadequate to meet the nutritional needs of children, the economic, social, and psychological consequences of which are debilitating for these children, caregivers and their households. 

While in many ways this is partially addressed through the National School Feeding Programme, part of the report’s recommendations is a reconsideration of the CSG model that provides for a basket of nutritional and other basic needs of children. This includes macro-food policies which subsidise the food basket of CSG recipients to ensure food security throughout the life cycle of a child.

This policy must address the various nutritional needs of the different age groups. It ought to include maternity protection for pregnant women, and optimal food support in early childhood development centres and school feeding/nutritional programmes.

The report calls for a Cash-Plus approach to the implementation of the CSG — where each recipient and caregiver not only receives their cash grant, but that the grant is formally linked to other essential free basic educational services such as ECD, free school uniform, free scholar transport etc, but also other free basic services such as electricity, adequate housing, health care etc (as opposed to the ad-hoc approach we are seeing).

A new approach to social security

Grant beneficiaries should not exclusively use their grant for food. For this reason, Black Sash is calling for comprehensive and systematic food provisioning programmes where a grant is also supplemented by food vouchers, coupons, soup kitchens, food parcels, onsite feeding, etc.

This is part of its broader vision of a Comprehensive Social Protection Floor in South Africa. Because so many of our basic needs are interconnected, a comprehensive Social Protection Floor sets in place a minimum basket of needs and resources a person needs to live a dignified life. These include people’s fundamental human needs such as basic services like water and electricity, access to education, food, public transport etc.


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The National Development Plan has called for a defined social protection floor which outlines an acceptable or decent standard of living. It states that a social floor is “a multi-pronged strategy recommended to ensure that no household lives below this floor. Problems such as poverty-induced hunger, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies will be addressed.” Its approach includes the possibility of social security reforms relating to the informal economy, to mandatory retirement contributions; and a quota of free municipal services.

At the heart of a comprehensive Social Protection Floor is also the need for cash transfers, i.e. social grants. Both the Child Support Grant and a possible Basic Income Support grant must be linked to an objective measure of need, such as the Food Poverty Line (currently R624). Basic Income Support has now become a food security issue and if we persist with the current status quo — the R350 grant — people, and children will continue to starve.

A new approach to grants

The R350 Social Relief of Distress grant is set to end in March 2023, marking three years since its inception. Despite its many administrative flaws and the fact that the grant is almost 50% below the food poverty line, it has been a lifeline for many. It has meant the difference between an empty stomach or not. Food security for the poor must be promoted and protected by both government and civil society. Food must be made accessible to all.

Black Sash has for more than two decades been a strong proponent of the Basic Income Grant and strongly advocated for Basic Income Support for people of 18 to 59 years who earn no or little income. Part of our campaign demands are that:

  1. The R350 SRD grant be increased to at least the Food Poverty Line, currently R624;
  2. There must be the implementation of permanent social assistance for those aged 18 to 59, valued at the upper-bound poverty line, currently R1,335 per month. Caregivers who receive the Child Support Grant must also qualify for this grant;
  3. Ensure that these provisions apply to qualifying refugees, permanent residents, asylum seekers and migrant workers with special permits; and
  4. Work towards a universal basic income for all.

Faced with the proverbial “grants are anti-job” rhetoric, it must be said that the overwhelming majority of research has shown that to be a false perception and that people use their grants to apply for jobs, print out their CVS, and travel to apply for jobs etc. It allows people to be more economically active and puts money back into the local economy. Black Sash strongly supports job creation as the solution to addressing the economic challenges of South Africa, but it must be complemented by comprehensive social protection, including social assistance for the unemployed and for job-seekers.

Jobs, however, are not what we are talking about now. As German philosopher, Friedrich Engels so aptly put it, “mankind must first of all eat”. Almost three years since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, its impact has exacerbated unemployment, inequality, and hunger.

Community-based monitoring conducted by Black Sash and its partners has overwhelmingly found that grants are used to put food on the table — often not for a whole month but at least for part of the month. This means that the time for debating whether we must have basic income support has passed, not when the time taken over debating means that someone else goes to bed with an empty stomach. DM

Amanda Rinquest is National Education and Training Manager of the Black Sash.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    “This means that the time for debating whether we must have basic income support has passed, not when the time taken over debating means that someone else goes to bed with an empty stomach.”
    If it has the very likely potential to destroy these economy and cause even more starvation, then I am afraid the time to debate BIG and all the other social spending like NHI has not passed. Support the starving absolutely yes and quickly! But stop debating ideas that will absolutely fail and leave us in a worse place (like BIG and the NHI as envisioned by the criminal enterprise named ANC), can only lead to disaster and more strife.

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