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MEDIUM-TERM BUDGET POLICY STATEMENT

Budget cuts cost us, say anti-austerity protesters demanding universal income grant

Budget cuts cost us, say anti-austerity protesters demanding universal income grant
Members of Cry of the Xcluded/Back to Work Campaign gather outside Parliament to protest against budget cuts on 1 November 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

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.

budget cuts parliament

A protester’s sign outside Parliament in Cape Town on 1 November 2023. The Cry of the Xcluded/Back to Work Campaign protested against budget cuts. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

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.”

budget cuts

CryX protesters gather outside the Parliament in Cape Town on 1 November 2023. (Photo: Jim Mohlala)

“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.”

budget cuts

Zane Poole, chairperson of Western Cape CryX, at the protest in Cape Town on 1 November 2023. (Photo: Jim Mohlala)

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.

budget cuts ngxatu

Xolani Ngxatu, chairperson of Ikora, at the budget cuts protest outside Parliament in Cape Town. (Photo: Jim Mohlala)

“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.

budget cuts

Unemployed Graduates Movement president Nkululeko Ndlovu at the protest outside Parliament in Cape Town. (Photo: Jim Mohlala)

“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.

budget cuts protest

Cry of the Xcluded/Back to Work Campaign members protest against budget cuts outside Parliament on 1 November 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

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

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The logic is astounding. OK, take from the richest 100 to pay R68b to the masses. That covers 2024. Then 2025 take the richest 500 to get to R75b. Then 2026 take the richest 5000 for that year’s grants. Carry on like this and by 2035 there is nobody to take from.

    Far simpler : vote for a different government, one that will grow the economy in real terms.

    Social experiment : people can sell their vote for cash. What would the price be that people will accept for their vote? R1,000?

  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    I am very sorry for all these organisations and very fashionably clothed leaders – there is only one solution – although for a longer term that the Medium. Stop buying clothes that keeps on falling off and have a LOT less children. We cannot afford this population growth !!!!!

  • Ben Harper says:

    Eish, we waant mo maaney for doing nuttin

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