SONA 2024 leaves South Africans with less certainty and more despair.

Cape Town, Friday 09 February 2024: Last night, we listened to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s attempt to impress us with his government’s achievements throughout 2023.  Instead, he affirmed yet another year has passed with little progress being made on the numerous plans he outlines in his yearly State of the Nation Address (SONA) address.  

Although the President confirmed that the Constitution must stand at the centre of the government’s work to build a better life for all, he failed to prioritise the fulfilment of basic rights.  His story of a young woman, Tintswalo,  may be a success story for our democracy, it is however an exception to the lived experiences of the majority in South Africa.  We encourage the President to watch Black Sash’s recently launched documentary series highlighting this reality.  

The failure to make any tangible progress in fixing South Africa’s many challenges is having a devasting impact on the lives of the poor and marginalized. Every year that the government fails to deliver on its promises contributes towards a disaster of poverty and despair, which is being seen increasingly in many communities across South Africa.  These communities fight daily just to survive, often failing, going to bed hungry, only to rise in the morning to face yet another day of hunger and uncertainty.  

Black Sash endorses the open letter sent to the President by civil society partner organisations earlier this week that highlighted the discrepancies between commitments made in previous SONA events and the actual allocation of resources by the National Treasury. Black Sash agrees that unilateral budget cuts to mitigate fiscal consolidation go against the priority of the government to advance socio-economic rights, economic growth, and previous government achievements. This does not bode well for the President to prioritise the needs of the majority living in South Africa.   

State capture and recovery of stolen funds.  

Whilst the Zondo Commission did not resonate with ordinary South Africans, the impact of State Capture on South Africa had a massive impact on everyone living in this country. These stolen funds, much of which has yet to be recovered, could have funded the dream sold to us by the State President last night. Instead, we were left with a stark reminder of what our country could be for the Tintswalos’ of our country.  

Unemployment and the right to social assistance.  

Black Sash agrees that job creation is necessary for economic growth, however the President confirmed that efforts made to address unemployment are not enough.  He noted that the unemployment rate is the highest it has ever been.  It is, therefore, imperative that job creation be complemented with the right to social assistance. The President acknowledged that having a job not only provides an income but also is fundamental to people’s sense of self-worth, dignity, hope, purpose, and inclusion. So, too, receiving support for those who cannot support themselves.  

It is for this reason that while we acknowledge that the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) Grant has been extended as announced in the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) of 2023, the reduced budget is puzzling given the crisis of unemployment at 32%. Even the Portfolio Committee on Social Development found it worrying that there was a saving of 9.7 billion given the high unemployment in the country and queried the reason for the slow uptake of the grant. (Portfolio Committee on Social Development Budget Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR), 2022/2023, Dated 18 October 2023)  

Child support grant is de-valued below Food Poverty Line. 

Given the high cost of living, the value of the Child Support Grant has diminished. It is way below the Food Poverty Line, which means that the grant fails to adequately provide support for vulnerable children and unemployed people who are supposed to be supported by these grants. Still, DSD and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) cite budget cuts to justify why it can’t be increased.  

In January 2024, the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet was R953,75.  Over the past month, the average cost to feed a child has increased by R14,02 or 1,5%.  Year-on-year, the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet increased by R100,72 or 11,8% (See page 6 of January 2024, Household Affordability Index). Currently, the Child Support Grant of R510 is 33% below the Food Poverty Line of R760 and 47% below the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet (R953,75).    

Beneficiaries continue to carry the burden of State institution failures.  

A third of those living in South Africa receive social grants, yet the government fails to prioritise the most vulnerable to ensure that they receive the full value of the grant on time to be able to survive. Budget cuts appear to be at the core of this failure to efficiently and effectively administer social grants.  

The SASSA- SAPO (South African Post Office) partnership as a state-led hybrid model providing a free basket of services for beneficiaries created a high expectancy that a state institution would fulfil its constitutional mandates. On the contrary, we saw the failure of SAPO and its ability to pay grants, which led to a business rescue and the cession of its SASSA contract to Postbank. Postbank is no better, as it does not have the capacity and expertise that has led to delays or non-payment of grants due to ongoing technical glitches and delays. It is now currently under Administratorship.   

The Master Service Agreement is still under review to address fee structure and dignity services where beneficiaries bear the brunt of lack of service delivery. This review is not necessary or feasible given that Postbank is moving beneficiaries to retailers and ATMs and discontinuing payments at Post Offices and mobile cash pay points.  

This announcement by SASSA and Postbank of the closure of all cash pay points by March 2024 is leaving beneficiaries destitute, especially in rural areas with limited access to the national payment infrastructure. Beneficiaries are compelled to use other payment channels, which diminishes the value of their grant due to transport costs to get to a pay point and bank charges.   

Despite the closure of pay points being part of a five-year plan by DSD and SASSA, they have failed to put alternative measures in place and have an effective communication and financial literacy strategy to keep beneficiaries informed and empowered to use alternate pay channels.  

Additionally, there is uncertainty about the re-issue of the SASSA Gold Card, which has an ad hoc extension until December 2024.  This uncertainty adds to beneficiaries’ anxiety every month; they wait for their grant with bated breath because there is little assurance that they will receive their monies.   

Given the complex challenges faced by recipients of social grants, the President’s story about Tintswalo and her positive experience in accessing a social grant is unlikely.  It contradicts the lived reality of the 26 million social grant beneficiaries.  It certainly is not reflected in the work of Black Sash; we grapple with trying to assist communities in navigating the social grant system and bear witness to the daily struggle beneficiaries have to survive.   

Given that most of the recipients of social grants are women, the President’s focus on women’s empowerment and acknowledging the need to address femicide and gender-based violence is encouraging.  However, it does strengthen the call for a basic income grant, which should be supported as such a grant will provide women with economic independence to remove themselves from toxic relationships.  

The President must prioritise the welfare of those in poverty.  

Every year, Black Sash urges the President to address the challenges faced by those impacted by poverty. We implore the President and his government to understand that these South Africans cannot wait any longer for his government’s plans to materialise. The situation for millions of South Africans has become life threatening.    

Therefore, the President must prioritise the welfare of communities and people faced with poverty who live hand to mouth. We call on the President to urgently address the following:  

  • Recognise the urgency for the government to fulfil its constitutional imperatives and prioritise service delivery in the public sector over fiscal consolidation.  
  • Acknowledge that job creation must be complemented by comprehensive social security with permanent social assistance for the unemployed, stimulating economic growth.  
  • Put into action plans that mitigate the impact the infrastructure and energy crisis has on the poor.  
  • Placing South Africans first must become the order of the day, and in the run-up to the Budget Speech, Black Sash hopes that Minister Gondwana considers the fiscus from a human rights perspective rather than affordability.  
  • A Black Sash documentary series highlights the lived reality of too many living in South Africa who struggle for daily survival.  

In 2023, Black Sash, in collaboration with veteran producer Johann Abraham and with the support of our community partners, produced a docu-series highlighting people’s lived experiences as they faced poverty, hunger and unemployment. The docu-series highlights the importance of supporting the call for Basic Income Support. The purpose of these stories is to get a glimpse of the struggles of many who live in South Africa. The series provides a platform for the most vulnerable in our society to use their own voice to tell those living in South Africa about their lived reality and their daily struggle to survive.  

To view the series, please visit our website or click here 


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