Dear Friends of the Black Sash,
On 19 May the Black Sash celebrated its 65th anniversary. We take a moment to remember those who started it. They denounced the government’s plan to enlarge the Senate, which was designed to give it a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament. This would enable the apartheid government to remove clauses in the 1910 Constitution, one of which protected the right to the vote on the common electoral roll of the last group of voters who were not classified “white” – the “coloured” men of the Western Cape.
Those women, and the thousands who supported them laid the foundations for an organisation which would survive through long periods of government intransigence, sustained oppression of the majority of South Africans, and eventually the transition to a democratically elected government.
While numbers dwindled, its commitment to human rights and to a more just and human society grew stronger. Its advice offices supported thousands of people suffering under the enforcement of the cruel “pass laws”.
For the past 20 years it has been one of many national non-profit organisations working under the new Constitution, campaigning to secure the rights which it was designed to protect. These include the right to human dignity, to health care, food, water and social security, and to just administrative action.
The Black Sash has made a notable contribution to improving access to social security including social assistance, and also to a greater public understanding of the need for a reduction in the huge inequalities which characterise so much of South African life.
In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, we pay tribute to the women who founded the Black Sash, to those who have expanded and built on its work, and to those who continue it today.
Mary Burton – Black Sash Patron
From the Desk of Black Sash National Director
The Black Sash was bravely formed 65 years ago during a brutal chapter in South African history. Given our legacy, we work towards human rights not only being recognized in law but respected and implemented in practice, with a focus on socio-economic rights.
The Covid-19 health pandemic has underscored the critical role of adequate investment in public health, comprehensive social protection; access to food, water, sanitation systems and housing; dignified and decent work. Covid-19 has also intensified the intersecting forms of inequality including income, wealth and gender within our country. The lockdown to curb transmission of the virus has caused jobs losses, endangered livelihoods and heightened exposure to violence.
The Black Sash will continue to fiercely defend the socio-economic rights of those living in South Africa, who are most affected by the consequences of this pandemic. As one of the first non-profit organisations to advocate for a Basic Income Grant, following the democratic dispensation, in 2016 we launched a campaign calling for Social Assistance for those between the ages of 18 and 59 years with no or little income.
Both the recommendations for Social Assistance for the cohort between 18 to 59 years and the possibility of a universal basic income grant are contained in the 2018 recommendations to the South African government by the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
The need for a more comprehensive social security safety net is more urgent than ever and, in particular, to mitigate the negative economic outfall of Covid-19. We therefore cautiously welcome the roll out of the temporary Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant as the first step towards a permanent adult Social Assistance grant.
The Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant is currently available for six-months from May 2020. At R350, the grant is considerably lower than the food poverty line of R581 per person per month and insufficient to provide for the basic nutrition for one person. We recommend that government use the upper-bound poverty line of R1,227 as the baseline for determining the value of the grant.
These and other recommendations are contained in a Letter to President Ramaphosa, endorsed by 30 other organisations, on the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant.
The Black Sash remains operational during the nationwide lockdown. This month the Black Sash national Helpline, which provides free paralegal advice, referrals and assistance, launched an additional contact number to meet the increasing demand for paralegal assistance. Please see below for more details.
A special thank you to our Board of Trustees, staff, former Black Sash members, our donors, partner community and civil society organisations who continue to support the work of the Black Sash. Every gesture of support means that the Black Sash can continue to strive towards making human rights real for all.
Lynette Maart – Black Sash National Director
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