Johannesburg - The Pretoria High Court’s ruling compelling the government to give asylum-seekers the R350 Covid-19 relief grant, is expected to cost the Department of Social Development R700 million.The judgment was handed down by Judge Selby Baqwa on Thursday following an application by the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, an NGO advocating for and assisting asylum-seekers, migrants and refugees. The NGO approached the court to force government to extend the grant to asylum-seekers and special permit holders.
The court declared directions issued by Minister Lindiwe Zulu unconstitutional and unlawful for excluding asylum-seekers and special permit holders from accessing the grant.
The Department of Social Development (DSD) this week said it would be adhering to the ruling. Spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the department was not excluding refugees.
“It is important to first clarify that the judgment did not instruct the government to include refugees; they were already included.
“The court order was about the inclusion of asylum-seekers and special permit holders from Zimbabwe, Angola and Lesotho.
“The department will have to amend to include the words ‘holders of special permits under the Special Angolan Dispensation, the Lesotho Exemption Permit Dispensation and the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit Dispensation, and asylum-seekers whose section 22 permits/visas are valid or were valid on 15 March 2020’,” she said.
Oliphant said this meant that directions issued by the Minister of Social Development were still valid and in force, except for the exclusion of asylum-seekers and holders of special permits as stated above.
She admitted the judgment would put strain on the DSD and government.
“The cost estimate is around R700m. The order will increase the pool of eligible applicants who will still be subjected to the stringent qualifying criteria to access the Special Covid-19 SRD grant of R350,” she said.
Following the Pretoria High Court’s ruling, economist Mike Schussler said the relief amount would be substantial and would add to the state's financial burden.
“With the pressure South Africa is under, it will increase the burden on the tax base.
“We are spending R9 billion extra a month on our Sassa grants, so adding this will add about 2% more on the payments.
“It’s not a very big percentage but it’s money we don’t have,” he said.
African Transformation Movement (ATM) said while the judgment was humane, it was apprehensive about its full implications. “ATM is puzzled that the asylum-seekers have successfully argued that their industries are affected by lockdown.
"Surely, asylum-seekers should not be competing for employment with our locals? It cannot be fair and just for South Africans to be roaming the streets while low-level jobs in the hospitality and tourism industries are taken up by intentional immigrants,” spokesperson Sizwe Richard said.
Richard added that the organisation was concerned that intentional migration had been confused and conflated with the status of asylum-seekers. “The government is called upon to implement immigration policies that do not undermine the provisions of the UN conventions.
"The Home Affairs Department must advise Minister Lindiwe Zulu on how the immigrants are categorised so that the fiscus of South Africa is not used for cases which the UN funding is providing for,” he said.
Many South Africans were outraged by the judgment, some arguing that their relatives had been rejected and were suffering while foreigners would now benefit from a programme that was supposed to uplift them.
Thabo Moremi said he had applied but had not received a response and continued to suffer.
“It can’t be that we as South Africans are suffering but the foreigners will be getting money and we don’t. Our government and the system seems to care more about foreigners than the citizens who vote for them,” he said.
Lindelani Mahlangu shared the same sentiment, indicating that entry-level jobs in many industries had been given to foreigners while locals remained unemployed and, again, were being overlooked and foreigners prioritised.
She said it could not happen that the government would “give money to outsiders” before its citizens.
“The government must prioritise us before they can even think of extending a helping hand to our brothers and sisters from outside. Yes, we love them and want to see them live, but not at our expense. They have taken our jobs, and now they are taking money that is meant to help us South Africans,” she said.
The order came as Sassa announced that at least 2 million applications had been rejected. The agency said it had been inundated with complaints since it had begun to inform some people that their applications were unsuccessful.
Sassa chief executive Totsie Memela said the agency was aware that the decisions had caused unhappiness among many citizens. However, everyone needed to be clear on the qualifying criteria, as the grant should go to the most deserving citizens of this country.
“We are aware that the initial batch of notifications did not provide the exact reason for the rejection and are doing everything possible to ensure that the notifications which go to applicants going forward are specific, to indicate exactly why the application failed.
“This will enable those affected to be able to understand the basis for the decision. Also, we are working on an appeals process where those who, after being informed of the reason for the decision, still feel that they qualify for the grant, can lodge an appeal,” Memela said.