Activists march against austerity budget

Activists gathered outside parliament on Wednesday ahead of the mid-term budget policy statement by Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana. Photo by Vincent Lali

The finance minister announced the extension of the SRD grant by a year while activists are calling for a basic income grant of R1,500 a month.

Dozens of community activists today gathered outside parliament in Cape Town and expressed their views on what Enoch Godongwana should include in his mid-term budget policy statement which he was scheduled to deliver inside.

They toyi-toyied and punctuated their speeches with struggle songs while carrying placards that
read: “We demand a basic income grant,” “Stop privatisation of our energy and transport” and “No
austerity!”

Reginald Mapempeni, secretary of the Back-to-Work campaign, said they want the finance minister to do away with budget cuts. “We want him to know that the budget cuts affect communities negatively. He must prioritise the provision of health services and community safety,” he said. The campaign also wants government to employ Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) workers permanently. “Municipal work is by its nature permanent as the streets always have to be cleaned and maintained,” Mapempeni said.

Sipokazi Sikawuti, founder of the Movement for Change and Social Justice, said she and Gugulethu
residents want the government to allocate a budget to refurbish the 60-year-old Gugulethu Day
Hospital. “We have an old day hospital that was built in 1962, but officials in charge of budget allocation never consider renovating it. Because the hospital is too small and too understaffed to serve a large number of residents, doctors and nurses can’t attend to patients properly,” she said.

Sikawuti warned: “If there is no budget to renovate the hospital, we will take to the streets.”

Luvo Nabe, an organiser for the Back-to-Work campaign, said they want Godongwana to create proper and decent jobs. “Godongwana is here to make false promises and talk about increased job opportunities, which are not visible on the ground,” he said. “They give us six-month EPWP contracts. We ask him if his family can work only for six months as EPWP workers. People have the right to decent work, which includes benefits such as medical aids.”

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In February this year, community activists under the banner of Cry of the Xcluded marched to parliament demanding a basic income grant of R1,500. Photo by Nobathembu Ndzengu

Lumkile Sizila, secretary of Amadoda Aqotho, said he and other activists want Godongwana to set a
budget aside to combat gender-based violence. “Our prisons are too soft on murderers of women and rapists. They have more money than people outside prison. We want rapists to suffer,” he said.
Sizila said: “Actually, they have become colleges where prisoners come out and demand protection
fees from innocent residents.”

Madoda Cupe, a committee member of the Anti-Austerity Forum, called for Godongwana to allocate
the funds for a basic income grant. “While the government is figuring out how to create jobs, it must give people a basic income grant,” he said. A basic income grant is important because it will give poor people buying power. “Now about 13-million people have no jobs and have nothing in their pockets. If each one of them gets R1,500, they will want to buy products and pay for services,” Cupe said. “If they need products, factories will manufacture them and create jobs. As a result, the economy will grow.”

The finance minister disappoints

In his medium-term budget speech, Godongwana announced a R30-billion bailout of state-owned enterprises that operate the nation’s railways and ports, build and maintain national roads and manufacture weapons. The social relief of distress grant of R350 a month, introduced during the Covid lockdown, will be extended by a year.

Godongwana reiterated the government’s stance that public sector workers will only get a 3% salary increase this year despite the unions demanding 10%.

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