Defend Truth


Impose compulsory community work on all who receive the R350 Covid-19 grant, Mr President


Sello Lediga is an author and the Chairperson of ActionSA in Limpopo. His latest book, South Africa’s Transition from Apartheid to Democracy, will be available in September.

Government has missed a golden opportunity to mobilise 10 million unemployed people by not making the R350 Covid-19 special grant conditional on performing community service.

Only a truly crazy and suicidal ruling party would cancel a R350 grant to 10 million unemployed voters a few months before elections in a democratic country. The announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that all unemployed South Africans would receive a R350 basic income grant to mitigate the vicious effects of Covid-19 was historic indeed. Now every South African who is not in a job receives a grant from the government. Good.

The implication is that a few taxpayers in this country are now responsible for the well-being of the unemployed, the old, the handicapped, the pregnant, legal and undocumented migrants, the abandoned and so forth. I do not know of any country with such a comprehensive grant system in Africa or anywhere else in the world. Yes, we are an empathetic nation.

Now, Covid-19 caught us off guard. In order to fulfil our obligations to all the recipients of all sorts of grants, the president announced a staggering R500-billion stimulus package to navigate the uncharted waters of the global pandemic. This happens one year before the holding of local government elections in 2021, and the national mood is not really good for an election. The 10 million new recipients of the R350 stipend are thanking  Ramaphosa and the ANC for this great act of magnanimity and solidarity. Some of them have been envious of the aged for their pension money and those young women collecting a grant for the children they made with the unemployed. R350 restores their dignity as they will henceforth be seen carrying food for their families once a month, forget about those who will drink all of that money.

Just imagine if indeed in November 2020 their newly acquired wealth is taken away from them by a pro-poor people’s movement, the African National Congress, that led them in the liberation struggle and restored their dignity. This will be a monumental betrayal and their anger will be felt all over municipalities in the country as their loyalty shifts from the ANC to the EFF. This will be manna from heaven for Julius Malema, the self-styled commander-in-chief of the red forces. So, Ramaphosa and his party are not stupid. The R350 will be made permanent. Only an idiotic party would not do that. So, brace yourself for political somersaults when the six-month period approaches its end. This is politics.

I have no problem with the government making permanent the basic income grant when it ends. What surprises me is why Mr Thuma Mina failed to see this Thuma Mina moment. The R350 was the perfect moment to galvanise 10 million soldiers to advance his agenda. He should have attached community service to the grant so that the recipients could provide some useful service to the nation. Just this week he was complaining about how dirty South Africa is during his visit to KwaZulu-Natal. Here is a free army to clean up the country for the R350 and the commander-in-chief couldn’t see it and was probably thinking about how much it would cost him to make South Africa clean. In the spirit of Thuma Mina, this was going to be easy to sell to the excited new recipients of the grant.

The ANC has long created a culture of dependence among the people. From the time before the first democratic elections in 1994, the party promised “a better life for ALL” to its supporters and voters. Since then, it has introduced one grant after another to ensure that the masses return it to power in every election. A self-destructive dependency syndrome has long permeated South African society. Citizens have been made to believe that government will provide everything for them – free education, free healthcare, free food parcels, free meals at school, free scholar transport, free official funerals and the list goes on.


There are many other things that these unemployed citizens can participate in to create a better South Africa, Mr President. Please thuma these people instead of turning them into hapless and passive recipients of delivery from your government.


How is this state expected to provide and sustain such freebies in perpetuity without a growing economy? It is unthinkable that a state that for a decade has been captured and looted, leading to downgrading by international rating agencies, can continue to dish out such freebies with gay abandon. But remember, we did not know the virus was coming. Fair enough.

It would have made sense to me to draft the 10 million new grant recipients into a comprehensive Thuma Mina project in all provinces, municipalities and local areas. How many of the 10 million unemployed would have rejected the R350 if you had imposed a community service condition as is the case with new doctors? It would have only amounted to the unemployed person waking up early at least once a week to serve the community. This Thuma Mina army could be deployed to remove litter in all our communities; the Thuma Mina soldiers could be used as marshals at pension payout centres to help the pensioners keep the mandatory 1.5m distance and avoid a stampede; they could be drafted in to help school children cross bridgeless rivers on their way to school in the deep rural areas; they could be used to do on a daily basis what we do once a year on Mandela Day.

Obviously, this would not imply going to work every day, but rather carrying out tasks given to them once a week. This would make South Africa a better place to live in. This would give dignity to the men and women deployed by their government to do meaningful work in the communities they live in. This would have been both worthwhile and fulfilling. Instead, they are going to be a laughing stock in the community as loafers receiving a grant even though they are not old, handicapped and destitute. The community is going to give them derogatory names for their meagre grant. It’s going to be rough. It was avoidable.

The government has also lost an opportunity to get these people to be productively involved in the economy. Our organisation, the Patriotic Movement, has a programme called “Every Household a Food Garden” in which we are galvanising households to establish food gardens in their yards, no matter how small. This project has the potential to augment the family meal by providing much-needed vegetables and fruit. This initiative has been received enthusiastically by our communities. 

Besides households, we have started communal food gardens where a group of people find land and pool their resources to fight hunger by establishing vegetable gardens. With the support of our municipalities, these communal food gardens can grow and thrive as cooperatives that will increase our agricultural output as a nation and enhance food security.

Instead, we have piled another grant upon our heavy burden. There are many other things that these unemployed citizens can participate in to create a better South Africa, Mr President. Please thuma these people instead of turning them into hapless and passive recipients of delivery from your government.

In conclusion, we are, as a nation and the world, facing a ruthless and invisible enemy in Covid-19. We must applaud our government for its vision by locking us down in our homes on 26 March even before the first fatality. That was leadership, Mr President, and the world has given you and your government credit for this foresight.

However, 40 days after lockdown, I am beginning to worry about my people. I no longer see imaginative leadership. The approach of the government suggests that confining people in their homes will make the virus go away. The virus is going nowhere and all of us have an appointment with it. Just like flu. Instead of creating an environment of making us all live in mortal fear of the virus, we need your leadership as the government to take the war to the virus.

We cannot be in lockdown until the second coming of Christ. Our approach should be that since the virus is here to stay, what strategies should we adopt to protect and defend ourselves against this enemy? We need to use the imagination of all of us and the resources of the state to enforce strictly the rules of the game, including putting on our masks, washing our hands, keeping a safe social distance, sanitising, observing rules regarding attendance of funerals and other gatherings, and so forth. Where compliance is not observed, and for the sake of us all, the full might of the law must be unleashed. Scenes of throngs of people in a stampede to access grants dominate the media, with government nowhere to be found to intervene timeously, suggesting no planning in the first place.

You have just acquired 10 million unemployed cadres through the new grant to deploy and manage some of these dangerous disorders. Lead us, Mr President. DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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