MEDIUM-TERM BUDGET POLICY STATEMENT
Budget cuts cost us, say anti-austerity protesters demanding universal income grant
While Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana was set to deliver his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement on Wednesday, demonstrators urged him to reconsider cost cuts and prioritise the wellbeing of ordinary citizens.
As South Africa faces economic challenges and a growing divide between the rich and the poor, the organisation Cry of the Xcluded led a protest to Parliament against Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s plan to cut budgets in various government departments ahead of his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) on Wednesday, 1 November.
Cry of the Xcluded is a working-class grouping that was formed by the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the Assembly of the Unemployed in 2020.
The protest, held under the theme “budget cuts cost us”, was a response to the Treasury’s proposed austerity measures, which threaten to worsen the lives of ordinary South Africans, according to Botshabelo Unemployed Movement spokesperson Mooketsi Diba.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Treasury’s planned budget cuts ‘dangerous to the economy and wellbeing’, say SA economists, civil society
Diba told Daily Maverick, “We are gathered here to say to Enoch that statement he is going to table today is not for us the poor, it is not for the working class.”
“Now we’re saying to Enoch Godongwana that they must stop [these] austerity measures because it’s killing our people. They are cutting all the budgets in the essential departments like your health and your education and for the development, so we are gathered here to say that [they] should stop this thing of austerity measures.”
He claimed that the government’s budget was based on austerity measures that were detrimental to the poor and the working class.
“We want the government to implement the basic income grant so that anyone who is unemployed in the country between the ages of 18-59 should benefit.”
Diba said such a grant would “benefit the youth and women, as statistics show that most of the unemployed people are youth and women”.
The protesters argued that budget cuts would increase levels of poverty, reduce the quality of essential services and hinder progress in key departments such as education and healthcare, which were already underfunded.
On 17 October, an open letter supported by civil society organisations including the Institute for Economic Justice, Equal Education, Socio-Economic Rights Institute, SECTION27 and Youth Capital called on President Cyril Ramaphosa and Godongwana to halt the cuts, describing the austerity measures as “misguided”, dangerous to the economy and “not supported by robust evidence”.
‘Ordinary people are hurting’
Zane Poole, Western Cape chairperson of Cry of the Xcluded, expressed the group’s frustration and demands, saying: “We are gathering here at the gates of the Parliament to tell the government that their austerity budget cuts are hurting ordinary South Africans, making them much poorer and increasing poverty levels in our communities. Services are not being rendered, and South Africa is becoming a mess.”
Poole told Daily Maverick that one of the group’s most important demands was a universal basic income grant, a direct cash payment of R1,500 a month for every unemployed citizen – a significant increase from the current R350 Social Relief of Distress grant.
Poole also proposed a solution, saying, “If we tax the richest 100 people in South Africa, we will get an amount of R68-billion that would fund that 1,500 for every unemployed person.”
Xolani Ngxatu, chairperson of the Independent Komani Residents Association (Ikora), said austerity measures had led to overcrowded classrooms and overwhelmed healthcare facilities.
“You will find that in a school, a teacher handles over 60 students in a class. That is why when you compare with private schools, their passing rate towards the end of the year is much higher than our kids. We are saying to the government, ‘Employ more graduates who are teachers, so that we can have better results’.”
Ngxatu said that the healthcare sector also faced an understaffing crisis. “The hospitals are in a dire situation because nurses are overpowered by the job they are doing.
“We are saying, employ more graduate nurses, more cleaners and more doctors. We are saying you must cut this thing of austerity, because it will only worsen the situation that the country is already in.”
Nkululeko Ndlovu, president of the Unemployed Graduates Movement, told Daily Maverick that he was concerned that the budget cuts would make the situation of graduates who can’t find work even more dire.
“Recently we have seen that the government is saying that they have run out of money and they are going to close some government departments. We know that there are unemployed graduates who are working in government departments who are interns there, and we know come the end of the year, some of them will be unemployed and their families will not have anything to eat because there would be no budget to hire them,” Ndlovu said.
“Once there is no one who brings food on the table in a family, it becomes our problem as leaders of the Unemployed Graduates Movement,” he added.
The protesters handed over a memorandum of demands to Lutendo Ramalebana from the National Treasury’s corporate services division.
“I just wanted to confirm that I have received the memorandum and it will be submitted to the minister of finance by end of business today,” Ramalebana said.
Daily Maverick asked about a possible date for the Treasury’s response, but no comment was given.
Cry of the Xcluded said the protest was a call for a more inclusive and equitable budget that addressed the needs of all South Africans, especially those who had been excluded from the benefits of economic progress “for far too long”. DM