Civil society demands extension and increase of COVID social relief grants

Some SASSA grant beneficiaries, even though they may be trying to access a disability grant, like Faniswa Mamkeli, have slept outside SASSA offices hoping they won't be turned away. Archive Photo by Lilita Gcwabe

The organisations are also demanding that a comprehensive plan for a guaranteed basic income be put in place in the next national budget.

The C19 People’s Coalition and close to 80 civil society organisations have signed a petition demanding the extension of the covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant to March next year and its increase from R350 to R585 a month. At a press conference held on Monday, the coalition revealed that if the emergency grant is not extended, “approximately 6.8 million people will be plunged below the food poverty line”.

Indications are that government has decided not to extend the grant beyond October. “The fact that the Supplementary Budget in June has not mandated the extension of the SRD grant and the Caregivers grant indicates that the forthcoming Adjustment Budget in October will likely not provide for this. National Treasury has stated in different fora, including Nedlac, that it is not considering this option,” reads the statement.

An increase to R585 is based on the food poverty line. In August, Stats South Africa released a report in which it revised three cost of living measurements as of April and the food poverty line (FPL), also known as the extreme poverty line, was set at R585. According to the C19 coalition’s statement, about 70% of adults live below the upper bound poverty line of R1,268 per person per month.

Speaking during the virtual press conference, Saftu’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, said that the R350 is tokenist. “We are happy that the demand of the coalition is that as a stop-gap measure, the amount should be increased to over R500 which in itself falls below the poverty line, and that is why we continue to march in the streets to demand that the government without any further delay must introduce a basic income grant… [which is] above the poverty line,” said Vavi.

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“Even prior to covid, South Africa was in an unprecedented economic downturn. We had two quarters of recession… and for the majority, this was felt through the loss of jobs. The most recent labour quarterly survey shows that [the number of the unemployed by] the narrow definition of unemployment had fallen, the broad definition had increased. What we are calling for is for urgent humanitarian decisions to be made and this includes extending and increasing the current grants up until the end of the financial year. We call on government to meet with leaders of the coalition including labour to discuss this by tomorrow,” said Isobel Frye from the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute.

Long, snaking queues outside SASSA offices were the order of the day during lockdown levels 5 and 4. Archive photo by Lilita Gcwabe

Daddy Mabe, a grant recipient and a member of the Assembly of the Unemployed in the Free State, said that the perception that those who live off social grants are lazy and not seeking employment is an insult to the unemployed. “It is a daily struggle. Sometimes it takes up to 48 hours to get R20. I have two children who are both unemployed. One is a graduate. But people who say those who get grants are lazy – that is an insult,” said Mabe.

Former Public Protector, Professor Thuli Madonsela, who was representing herself and the Social Justice Chair at Stellenbosch University, said that if the grants are withdrawn, they would leave immense burden on the shoulders of women. As a solution, Madonsela proposed that the money to fund the grant extension and increase should come from the security budget for members of the executive as it is ” quite excessive for a country like ours”.

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