Dear Mr President,
I am writing once again from Mahlathi, a village near Giyani in Limpopo, to talk about hope.
Let me tell you what the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant of R350 has done for people in Mahlathi – including myself: I’ve been able to buy 10kg of maize meal, potatoes, a little cooking oil and washing powder.
I have written before about the problems with the application process, and my opinion that R350 is far too little. But the SRD grant has been the difference between life and death for many of us. It’s also given us hope that there might be a tomorrow, and that people with the power and the resources have noticed our suffering.
A Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), set at an amount that would allow people to drag themselves out of poverty, could be the proudest thing South Africa has done since 1994’s elections. A BIG could help millions of us, and give us hope again.
A BIG could be our flagship project. I don’t need to be an economist to know the difference it could make – I see it for myself in my village, where children drop out of school, fall into depression and drug use, where people have lost all hope.
A BIG is a moral choice. It could be a national project the rest of the world could learn from. And national projects that are important, and that the whole country believes in, are projects we can always find the funding for. You just have to make the decision – on behalf of the majority of people in this country who it would save. (And if you’re not making decisions on their behalf, we have to ask: on whose behalf are you making decisions?)
A BIG will put food on our tables and hope in our hearts.
Anybody who thinks a BIG will make people lazy have not lived our lives of poverty – they do not know the hopelessness that comes from an empty stomach, of seeing your children leave school, of not having a job, of not having the taxi fare to even look for a job, of not having spare money to start the smallest of businesses, of not having the chance to save for a future, of not having a future. And they have not seen the people of my village try to make a life for themselves even though they have these difficulties.
Mr President, I have helped thousands of people around the country with their SRD application process. Yes, there are problems with it, but I have also received thousands of messages asking me whether the SRD grant will be extended. The grant is small – too small – but it has saved people. Take it away and you snatch away the crumbs that kept them alive, and you snatch away their hope for a future.
When it comes time for your State of the Nation Address this year, I hope you will keep in mind my village of Mahlathi and the people who are asking whether the grant will be extended. More than extending it, I believe we should grow it into a decent Basic Income Grant of R1,500, without qualifying criteria.
We need to stop thinking about the BIG as something we are forced to put in place, a grudge decision. We should make it a positive – something the whole country can get behind. It could be something rich corporations and individuals will be proud to contribute to. It’s a chance at solidarity that we need desperately, and something that might even bring hope – to rich and poor in South Africa. DM/MC
Israel Nkuna is a community activist who has written about the problems facing grant applicants and offered voluntary assistance for thousands of SRD applicants nationwide. Recently, he was elected as ward committee representative at Mahlathi Village near Giyani, Limpopo.