Durban - Pensioners and civil society are up in arms over the below inflation increase in grants announced by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni during his Budget speech. The groups see it as an attack on the poor.
Mboweni said social grants would be reduced by R5.8 billion in 2021/2022. He said it was expected that the number of social grant beneficiaries would reach 9 million people by 2022/2023.
He said pensions and disability grants would increase from R1 860 to R1 890; child support will increase from R445 to R460; 3.4 percent increase, or R15. Julie Smith, a researcher at the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group, said the small increase was “violence against children, mothers and pensioners”.
“If you can’t eat enough food and eat proper food and have a safe place for your family, it is an everyday form of violence that undermines the social grant system.”
Smith said this after Mboweni tried to give hope in his speech, Mboweni quoted Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
Mboweni said: “Today, I want to leave you hopeful and outline how we will leave this economy in better shape for those who come after us...Under the leadership of our president, we have crafted a Fiscal Framework that extends support to the economy and public health services in the short term, while ensuring the sustainability of our public finances in the medium term. This is our first reason for hope.”
These words, however, did not provide much hope to pensioners. Phoenix pensioner Robert Berharilal, 62, said: “The increase is disgraceful. Only R30 yet the price of petrol, basic food stuff and Eskom electricity to increase by 15 %, all increasing. The pensioner is being bled to death. The government needs to arrest and charge all the politicians and public servants involved in fraud and corruption to recover stolen funds. The justice system is very slow in SA. The government needs to remove taxes on import duties on basic food items like rice, beans, lentils, etc so that the pensioner may be able to survive.”
Empangeni pensioner Barbara Prinsloo, 77, said the increase was not enough for both she and her 83-year-old husband as the cost of living had gone up to a point where they were not able to keep up.
Smith said the poor were going to be in a worse situation than they were in last year. She projected inflation to be at 10 percent this year. She said children would not be eating properly and would not learn properly at school. She said the R460 child support grant was 21% below the food poverty line of R585 and 35% below the amount needed to provide nutritious food for a child of R710.75.
Smith said the cost of a food basket was R401.77 cents and had gone up R144.84 in the past six months. She said electricity and transportation costs would also go up. Smith highlighted that the low increases would hurt black South Africans the most. “It directly undermines black South Africans who are the majority of people who are struggling,” she said.
Shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo president S’bu Zikode said the Budget would only help rich people to exploit poor people and inequality in the country would continue to grow.
Ubunye Bamahostela chairperson Vusi Zweni felt job creation was important and also that could only be done through an education system that empowers people. He said the government needed to empower people and listen to them.
Political analyst Thabani Khumalo said the Budget was no different from previous years as it was pro business rather than for the poor. He said the government was under the illusion that if they made things easier for business then it (business) would invest back into the country which was not the case.
Khumalo expected the government to impose a wealth tax, but he believed the government was scared of doing so. He said that as long as there was no wealth tax, then all efforts by the government to help the poor would not be sustainable.