Yesterday evening we listened to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s attempt to impress us with his government’s achievements throughout 2022, instead he affirmed that government has procrastinated in moving forward and made little commitments that will immediately impact the lives of the poor and marginalized.
Prior to the State of The Nation address Black Sash were hoping the president would address the following:
- Recognize the urgency for government to fulfil its constitutional imperatives in terms of the Bill of Rights- people are struggling to survive in the context of hunger, poverty and high unemployment;
- The need for job creation to be complemented by comprehensive social security;
- The impact of the energy crisis on the poor; and
- The Social Relief of Distress Grant to become permanent social assistance for the unemployed, aged between 18 to 59. Putting people first must become the order of the day, and in the run up to the Budget Speech Black Sash hopes that Minister Gondwana considers fiscus from a human rights perspective- emphasizing obligations rather than affordability.
As expected, the President responded to the energy crisis. What will a State of Disaster and the appointment of a new Electricity Minister mean for the poor and rural? We question whether in fact “around two million indigent households receive free basic water, free basic electricity and free solid waste removal” when many are regularly without electricity and other basic services. It is worth noting that social grant beneficiaries use their grants primarily on food and electricity.
The plans outlined in SONA to respond to unemployment, especially for youth and women’s economic empowerment sound impressive, but there are no clear outlines with outcomes and specific timelines to show that it will provide a sustainable solution to address unemployment. In the current context it is necessary for the State to take seriously its obligation to fulfil the right to social security for the most vulnerable in our society.
The Right to Social Assistance
The President also stated that: “Work is underway to develop a mechanism for targeted basic income support for the most vulnerable, within our fiscal constraints”. This statement by the President fails to make a firm commitment as to when and how the policy framework will be developed- despite government having acknowledged that a Basic Income Support is a solution to address the economic crisis and at the same time stimulate the local economy.
Black Sash welcomes the acknowledgement by the President that social grants are a lifeline in the crisis of unemployment. Additionally, we welcome the announcement that the government will ensure that existing social grants are increased to cushion the poor against rising inflation. We wait in anticipation to hear what that increase will be. Black Sash demands that the increase in social grants must be at least at the inflation rate, with no grant being below the Food Poverty Line which means Child Support Grant and the Social Relief of Distress grant must be at least R624.
Black Sash is cautiously pleased to hear that government will:
“Ensure that existing social grants are increased to cushion the poor against rising inflation. In support of this work and to counter the rising cost of living will continue the Social Relief of Distress Grant, which currently reaches around 7.8 million people.”
The question remains will those living in South Africa between the ages of 18 and 59 receive a permanent grant in 2023 at an amount above the Food Poverty Line of R624?
SASSA and Postbank
As SONA unfolded The President referred to Postbank indicating:
The Postbank is reviewing its service offerings so that it can provide a viable and affordable alternative to the commercial banks as The National Assembly considers the Postbank Amendment Bill.
It is remiss of the President to encourage the services of Postbank, given the significant challenges the Postbank has had in paying social grants which left social grant beneficiaries without their grants which they desperately depend on over the November and December 2022 period. There was no mention of Postbank’s current relationship with SASSA, nor the fact that SASSA has shifted the responsibility of grant payment from SAPO to Postbank without adequate communication or transparency. This lack of communication and transparency to grant beneficiaries and other stakeholders of the move from SAPO to Postbank has left thousands without a grant during the most “wonderful time of the year”.
While we acknowledge that it is worth considering shifting from using services of entities that have a profit incentive, is the shift to Postbank a viable option?
The President emphasised that no one must be left behind, but sadly SONA fails to speak to the majority living in South Africa.