August was a month that demanded that we reflect. Reflect on where we have come from and on the kind of society we are striving for. In August we remembered the life of Emma Mashinini and Ahmed Kathrada, both born on 21 August 1929. August marked the historic Women’s March in 1956 to demand the end to pass laws; the arrest of Steve Biko in 1977; the brutal assassination of Ruth First in 1982; and the launch of the United Democratic Front in 1983 to demand an end to the Tricameral Parliament.
In August we remembered the anniversary of the Marikana massacre in 2012 and reflected on the call they made for a living wage and a dignified life. We must also recall the state violence with which their calls were met.
Speaking at the launch of the United Democratic Front in Mitchells Plain, Reverend Allan Boesak boldly told those gathered: “We shall not be satisfied until the wealth and riches of this country are shared by all. We shall not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
This call remains true today. Despite the many sacrifices made for a democratic South Africa, a life of equality and dignity eludes many.
Boesak spoke about this kind of inequality under apartheid in his 1983 speech, saying “when you are white, your children’s education is guaranteed and paid for by the state;… your job is secure… your home has never been taken away and… your children don’t have to die of hunger and malnutrition”. Our democratic institutions have made some invaluable progress towards dignity and equality in South Africa, but far too many in this country still go to bed feeling unsafe, hungry and disillusioned.
While the path to the imagined dignity and equality is not easy, one thing has become clearer: people’s basic needs must be met and met now in the form of Basic Income Support.
The path requires urgent action on the part of the government. Never in our democratic history has there been a more immediate need for the government to fulfil its constitutional obligation in terms of Section 27 to provide permanent Basic Income Support for those between the ages of 18 to 59 with little to no income.
While the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant is a step in the right direction, its temporary nature and immorally low R350 value is not enough to address the growing depths of poverty, inflation and hunger in South Africa. Unemployment is at a record high, many people still struggle to access basic services and, according to Stats SA, about half (49.2%) of the adult population is living below the upper-bound poverty line of R1,268 per month.
South Africa has the triple challenge of unemployment, inequality and poverty. Unemployment is both structural and due to slow economic growth. Simply put, there are not enough jobs, nor can enough be created by the economy in the foreseeable future. Unsurprisingly, there remain racial and gender disparities in employment.
As we think back on this Women’s Month, we must remember that the burden of inequality, poverty and unemployment is disproportionately borne by poor black and coloured women. According to the second-quarter Stats SA report Labour Force Survey, unemployment rates for women were 34%, with unemployment at 38.3% for black women. More than four in every 10 young women were not in employment, education or training and women were more likely than men to offer “family commitment” as a reason for not attending school (17.1% compared with 0.3%).
The words of Boesak in August 1983 continue to ring true today. We must not be satisfied until the wealth and riches of this country are shared by all. This is an issue of justice. The rate of wealth inequality in South Africa is untenable and unsustainable. We have seen this in the past 18 months under the Covid-19 lockdown, and we saw it during the unfolding events and unrest in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July 2021.
So, as we reflect on August, the Black Sash’s call remains the same, for now and for the future: We demand a dignified life for all. This will only be realised when the South African government fulfils its constitutional obligation to provide comprehensive social security.
Until social assistance for the unemployed is made permanent, the Black Sash is calling for the government to make the Covid-19 increases of R250 per month permanent for all grants, and to immediately increase the reinstated Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant to at least the Food Poverty Line, which is currently pegged at R585.
The government must begin to work towards a universal basic income for all but, until such time, it must implement permanent income support for those aged 18 to 59 with little to no income. The Black Sash demands that Basic Income Support be valued at the upper-bound poverty line, which is currently R1,268 per month. Unemployed caregivers, who receive the Child Support Grant, must also qualify for this income support.
The government must also ensure that refugees, permanent residents, asylum seekers and migrant workers with special permits, who are in need, also qualify and receive their grant.
To join more than 300,000 people who have added their voice to this call, please consider signing our petition demands here.
Basic Income Support is a constitutional, moral and justice issue and we shall not be satisfied until justice is achieved. The government has said it cannot afford to implement Basic Income Support, but it is worth asking if we can afford not to? DM