Johannesburg - News that the country has seen more than 700 000 graduates and young people join the social development queues in search for the R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRD) grant has sent shock waves across the country.
Cosatu says it is alarmed by reports that more than 700 000 graduates have applied for the R350 social distress relief grant since the start of 2023, adding that South Africa had become a “nanny state” where young people are given social grants instead of job opportunities.
Last week, media reports indicated that more and more unemployed graduates were now approaching the department of social development to apply for grants instead of accessing job opportunities.
The shocking news comes two weeks after more than 1000 unemployed medical doctors affiliated with the SA Medical Association Trade Union took to the streets of Pretoria, demanding jobs across SA’s clinics and hospitals.
Last week, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu revealed that the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) had received more than 13.5 million applications for the SRD grant as of the end of January, and more than 716 000 tertiary graduates had applied.
Zulu said between 7.4 million and 7.8 million applications were approved every month.
Speaking to The Star, Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said this was the biggest scandal in a country with the highest youth unemployment rate, which stands at over 60%.
Latest statistics have put the country’s youth unemployment rate at 64.18%. The youth unemployment rate refers to the share of the workforce aged 15-24 that is currently not working but actively searching for work.
“This is a scandal that should bring shame to policymakers and decision-makers. This shows that the policy choices have let down badly these young people, who are watching their dreams pass them by,” Pamla said.
This week, it is expected that Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana will table his Budget speech, in which he will outline key focus areas for the country’s economic recovery.
Cosatu hopes the minister will have something tangible to give the more than 10 million unemployed youth of this country.
“The upcoming Budget speech can make a difference if it allocates money for the Presidential Employment Programme to absorb a million young people. They also need to finalise the establishment of a state bank so that young people can get affordable funding to start businesses. We need a people-centred budget that caters to rural and township economies,” Pamla said.
Dr Cedric Sihlangu, provincial chairperson of the SA Medical Association Trade Union, said in the absence of meaningful jobs for graduates across sectors, the R350 grant presented an income to millions of unemployed graduates.
“In the absence of jobs, it is not surprising that you find more and more graduates applying for social grants. It is a worrying trend as graduates, even in highly skilled sectors of the economy such as doctors, are found sitting at home without jobs while government Sona (State of the Nation Address) after Sona speaks prettily about the need to employ young people and graduates,” Sihlangu said.
Sassa spokesperson, Paseka Letsatsi, said more than 60% of grant recipients in the country were young people.
“In terms of our analysis, we have picked up that the majority of the people who have applied for the SRD grants are young people and are mostly female. The good thing is that if we have the information, we will be able to share that with our sister departments to ensure that other government departments understand the situation and are able to assist them,” he said.
The Institute for Economic Justice has approved the recent announcement by Ramaphosa in his Sona indicating that the social relief distress grant will become a permanent feature in the lives of poor South Africans, including graduates.
“Making SRD permanent puts South Africa on course to become a world leader in dignified, evidence-based social protection. The combination of basic income, the national minimum wage and public services could massively raise the living standards of the poorest half of our population,” the institute said.