Durban - It is impossible - R753 is not enough, Madam Minister. That’s the desperate message from Durban pensioners to Social Development Minister, Bathabile Dlamini.
They were speaking to the Daily News at an Isipingo grocery store at the weekend and described in stark terms how they were unable to survive on the social grants they received.
With the help of the grocer, we tried to see just how far R753 could be stretched, but it made for a modest basket.
Dlamini stirred outrage last week when she said, in reply to a DA parliamentary question, that R753 a month should be enough for social grant beneficiaries to buy food as well as additional non-food items.
The minister has since said she clearly stated that the increases were guided by Statistics SA’s official poverty line. She also pointed out that the Treasury had a role in setting the grant, while balancing other national priorities.
Advocacy group, the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa), which has long been vocal on the high cost of living and the real price of a basket of groceries, doubted R753 could put a month’s worth of nutritious food on the table.
The Department of Social Development had “intentionally not protected South Africa’s most vulnerable people from food price inflation”, said agency researcher, Julie Smith.
Smith questioned the quality of life of a person living on this amount, saying whatever food could be bought would likely not be nutritious.
In its report on the national poverty, Stats SA defines the food poverty line as: “The rand value below which individuals are unable to purchase or consume enough food to supply them with minimum per-capita-per-day requirement for good health.”
These are divided into a lower and upper limit. At the lower end, R544, people do not have enough to “consume or purchase both adequate food and non-food items and are forced to sacrifice food to obtain essential non-food items”.
On the upper limit, R753, people have just enough to buy food and non-food items.
According to Pacsa’s latest Food Price Barometer, the difference between the cost of a food basket which was not nutritionally complete and a minimum nutritional basket was R2 501.15, in April this year.
The DA’s Social Development spokeswoman, Bridget Masango, called Dlamini’s response, “uncaring”.
“The truth is that the recent increases to social grants were well below food inflation, and this has diminished the buying power of the most vulnerable in our society, making it harder for them to put food on the table”.
Masango said with rising food prices - caused by the drought and other factors - the DA contended that Dlamini’s assertion was “deeply insensitive and completely untrue”.
Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Njongunkulu Ndungane at the weekend said the minister was “completely out of touch with reality” and calling for her to resign.
Smith said in February, pensions went up 5.6% (R80) from R1 420 to R1 500, yet food prices increased 18% or R295 between April last year and this April.
“It means that annual pension increases were increased below the level of food price inflation. It was common knowledge at the time (February 2016 when the Budget speech was delivered) that food price inflation would increase dramatically for the 2016 year.
“It is concerning coming from the minister and makes you question what the vision for South Africa is when they say it is okay for people to live on the poverty line.”
Rajish Lutchman, chief executive of the Aryan Benevolent Home which cares for about 500 elderly people in KwaZulu-Natal, said R753 was inadequate.
He said it was also necessary to consider the rising cost of utilities. There was also the cost of medication and paying to keep older people fit and healthy.
A basic monthly food basket for one would cost about R600, said Lutchman, stressing that food needed to be nutritious if illness was to be avoided.
The Daily News spoke to shoppers at the Isipingo grocer Jeena’s Warehouse and asked them if they could survive on R753 a month.
Alzina Mpanza, 90, of uMlazi said it was not enough. She said the high cost of food meant that by mid-month she had to find money to supplement the groceries she buys for her family.
Thembile Gcwensa, 69, of uMlazi said it was impossible to live on R753, even if one lived alone.
Bhengi Malishe, 50, of Glebelands Hostel said he could survive on the amount, but he lived alone and the money only bought him food.
“When I do a grocery shop for my whole family, R753 amount is just nothing.” - Additional reporting by Nokubonga Mthethwa