President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended the country's increasing social welfare bill, with over 25 million South Africans relying on the government for various social grants and announcing a further extension to the R350 social relief of distress grant for the unemployed.
As of January 2024, there were 18 million people on old age, child, disability and foster grants, while another nine million young people were recipients of the R350 grant, which was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 as a temporary measure.
Ramaphosa said the government would not only be extending the R350 SRD grant, but improving it - suggesting the government was set to spend more on it.
There have been calls by some sectors in society for a basic income grant for the unemployed.
Ramaphosa described the grant as an “investment” and said the social assistance was much needed.
“We have seen the benefits of this grant and will extend it and improve it as the next step towards income support for the unemployed.
“These grants and subsidies do much more than give people what they need to live. They are an investment in the future.
“Social assistance has been shown to increase school enrolment and attendance, lower drop-out rates, and improve the pass rate,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said the democratic government, in undoing how the apartheid regime had used education as a tool to perpetuate inequality, said the ANC government has tried to use education as a tool to create equality.
He said with the record 82.9% matric pass rate achieved by the Class of 2023, the government was seeing steady improvement in educational outcomes and said they were also pleased that learners from poorer and less-resourced no-fee schools were passing at higher rates and attaining university entry worthy bachelor passes.
“At the same time, fewer learners are dropping out of school. We have increased funding for poor and working-class students in universities and TVET significantly over the past five years.
“Over the next five years, we will focus our attention on expanding access to early childhood development and improving early grade reading, where we are already beginning to see progress,” said Ramaphosa.
He said the decision to transfer early childhood development to the Department of Basic Education from the Department of Social Development had allowed the government to “devote more resources to early childhood development and ensure that through cooperative governance various departments of government get involved in early childhood development augmented by the DBE”.
Ramaphosa said the governing ANC’s policies had “over the course of 30 years, lifted millions of people out of dire poverty”.
“Today, fewer South Africans go hungry and fewer live in poverty.
“In 1993, South Africa faced a significant poverty challenge, with 71% of its population living in poverty.
“However, under the democratic government, there has been a consistent decline in these numbers,” he said, adding that a World Bank report showed the poverty rate had declined to 55% as of 2020