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SA civil society repeats call for basic income grant

POVERTY ERADICATION: Members of the Western Cape Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition held a demonstration outside St George’s Cathedral. Picture: ANGELO KALMEYER

POVERTY ERADICATION: Members of the Western Cape Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition held a demonstration outside St George’s Cathedral. Picture: ANGELO KALMEYER

Published Jul 21, 2021


DURBAN - IN THE midst of the continued Covid-19 economic restrictions and the recent riots threatening food supplies and jobs, civil society has repeated its call for an urgent introduction of the basic income grant.

Civil society organisations said the R1 268 basic income grant, the reintroduction of the R350 special Covid-19 grant and the R500 monthly caregivers grant had never been more urgent given the lockdowns on economic activity and looting and vandalism estimated to have cost the KwaZulu-Natal economy at least R50 billion, according to spokesperson Lennox Mabaso.

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“Responding to ongoing social tensions, social justice organisations are forging a multi-pronged national demand for the unconditional commitment to a universal income grant of R1 268 per person a month … with immediate reintroduction of the R350 Special Covid grant and the R500 caregivers’ grant,” said Isobel Frye, spokesperson for the coalition involving the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, the Black Sash and the Women’s Legal Centre.

In a statement, the organisations said “the grant would be clawed back from the wealthy through tax adjustments”.

The strategy would be to include a mass mobilisation campaign and constitutional litigation to ensure that the constitutional rights to equality and dignity, sufficient food and social security were made real for the millions of people that “appear to be surplus to the priorities of the state”.

“(An amount of) R1 268 is a bare minimum and nowhere near what is actually required for a decent standard of living,” the coalition stated.

“We believe the rule of law is not an intangible principle. The rule of law must put bread on people’s tables, and be used to provide warmth, security and well-being. The rule of law cannot be exclusively about protecting people’s vested property. In this most unequal of countries the law needs to champion the fair distribution of the wealth in South Africa.

“Against a backdrop of continuing national unrest and the Covid19 pandemic, this coalition seeks to draw attention to the plight of the 13 million people living in deepening starvation in South Africa, 3 million of whom are children.

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“In light of the fact that the R350 Covid Social Relief of Distress Grant, paid to just under 7 million people, came to an end in April 2021, and the caregivers grant that provided a small top-up in households where poor children lived, came to an end in October 2020, this coalition of organisations unapologetically demands a universal basic income grant of R1 268 paid to all those in need and funded through blended financing options.”

Joining the call, Corruption Watch added: “The current crisis in SA that has seen widespread unrest, looting, disruption of services and destruction of infrastructure can be laid squarely at the feet of a political establishment out of touch with a population that it claims to represent.

“While many contributory forces are at play in this crisis, the reality of people driven to desperation by hunger, inequality and unemployment cannot be ignored. For the past decade, people have been subjected to deteriorating living conditions, lack of services and empty promises from politicians, against a backdrop of escalating corruption at the highest levels,” said David Lewis, the organisation’s executive director.

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“Add to this the austerity imposed by the lockdowns, the ravaging effects of the third wave of the pandemic and ongoing blatant corruption – from tenders and procurement of personal protective equipment to food relief parcels – it is no wonder that matters erupted as they did,” Lewis said, referring to the looting and unrest.

“For many years, civil society has warned about the impact of not only corruption, but the effects of financial austerity on the most vulnerable and the economic exclusion of large parts of the population whose prospects for employment have become increasingly bleaker.

“In the short term, it is possible for the government to provide muchneeded support through the re-introduction of the social relief grant for the unemployed. A medium-term recommendation is to consider the implementation of a basic income grant that would provide ongoing support for people most affected by poverty and unemployment,” Lewis said.

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