Call to extend and increase Covid grant

SASSA clients queuing outside the grant agency office in Khayelitsha. Archive Photo by Lilita Gcwabe

The end of January marks the end of the Social Relief of Distress grant of R350, disbursed by Sassa, but civil society organisations have called for an extension.

The C19 People’s Coalition has during a press conference said that 180 civil society organisations have signed a petition calling for the extension of the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant and urgent progress towards a basic income grant for those between the ages of 18 and 59.

In one of the few interviews that the president has done with the media since the lockdown in March last year, Ramaphosa admitted that the country does not have money to support families that do not have an income due to the lockdown of the economy as funding for vaccines is being prioritised. This is despite his statement after the African National Congress’s National Executive Committee meeting a week ago, that the lekgotla “has agreed that, in the context of the continuing Covid pandemic, we need to consider the extension of basic income relief to unemployed people who do not receive any other form of state assistance”.

The civil society organisations want the Covid-19 SRD grant to be increased to at least the food poverty line of R585 per person per month. Currently, it is R350 per month and is set to end at the end of January.

Duduzile Dlamini, an advocacy manager from Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT) said that sex work has effectively been haltered during the lockdown. “Sex work is criminalised and sex workers were not included in the government’s plan. Some have been thrown out by their landlords because they cannot afford rent. They could not provide for their families and the food parcels were not reaching [them],” she said. Dlamini said that they support the increase as it will go a long way to putting food on the table for sex workers and women in general.

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Busi Sibeko, a researcher from the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) who was also chairing the media briefing, said that their research has revealed “only 40% of those who are eligible for the SRD grant are actually getting it”. Most people needing the grant are excluded through means testing, she said, an obstacle in the implementation of the grants that needs to end.

In his message of support, the general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi said that the inequalities in South Africa are not sustainable and need to be addressed urgently. “This country must ask itself if it wants to risk implosion because of growing inequalities.”

Former public protector, Thuli Madonsela said that the money for the increase can come from the money spent on privileges for members of parliament. During a previous press briefing on the same issue, she had said that the security budget for members of the executive should fund the increase in the SRD grant.

Activist, Shaeera Kalla said that the closure of the Sassa mobile centre and the fact that during lockdown the grant agency was working at 50% capacity was unacceptable. During both the national parliament and provincial committee meeting it was stated that the closure of the service points especially in the Western Cape led to overcrowding outside Sassa offices.

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