The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) condemns government’s consistent, dogmatic refusal to address the worsening crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequalities in our country. SAFTU in its own right and as a part of the C19 Peoples Coalition, which unites hundreds of working-class formations, made repeated, spirited calls on the government to extend Social Relief of Distress (SRD) provisions Grants. We repeat these calls now, three weeks ahead of a critical Treasury budget presentation to Parliament.
Our demands remain:
- Extend and increase the COVID -19 SRD Grants to at least the food poverty line of R585 per person per month
- Reassess the unduly harsh and narrow criteria for accessing the grants
- Include caregivers for the SRD Grant regardless of whether they are receiving a child support grant for their children
- Rapidly conclude deliberations on the long-overdue Basic Income Grant for those aged between 18 and 59.
The President was silent about these legitimate demands in his relaxation of Covid-19 lockdown rules, failing to utter a word about government’s halting even the R350 per person a month unemployment grant. He never acknowledged the suffering of the millions of workers who lost their jobs and incomes in 2020. He did not speak at all about the impact of the adjusted level 3 regulation on the hospitality industry, agriculture and their value chains.
This is yet more evidence that what matters to his government is the bosses’ concerns. The bourgeoisie was clamouring to reopen the beaches and allow the sale and consumption of liquor in restaurants and taverns, etc. The bosses got everything last night, but workers facing Covid-19’s economic consequences are left to their own devices.
This should convince every unemployed person – in particular women and youth – to participate in the SAFTU-led strike on 24 February 2021. We must shut down the economy to show we are serious. And we must follow this with a series of other general strikes in 2021 until the government meets all the demands we have submitted to NEDLAC.
This is a month in which the extent of Covid-19’s second-wave damage is becoming clear. We believe government has not done enough for those in the poor and working classes who have suffered. While we are happy the rates of infection and death are down to much lower levels this week, and we are delighted that many frontline health workers will get vaccines in coming days, we are chilled at the warning from scientists of an imminent third wave, once the cold winter arrives in a few months.
Can millions of vaccines that are said to be on order, finally, arrive and be more rapidly distributed? We doubt it given this government’s record of incompetence and thieving. We know the largest capitalists are greedy to jump the queues, and distribute vaccines through their own for-profit outlets.
In the context of what we all recognise to be vaccine and treatment apartheid, can a major effort not be made, to ensure that generic versions are available? We join with the People’s Vaccine Movement and healthcare workers who are protesting at embassies and consulates this week, against mainly Northern imperialist governments which refuse to accept a proposed waiver on their companies’ Intellectual Property notwithstanding the massive public subsidies, the pandemic conditions and the current shortages of vaccines.
We are proud South Africa is one of four countries leading this struggle at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, and yet we are dismayed that President Ramaphosa never updates his constituents on what we can do to help put pressure on the imperialist powers.
SAFTU calls for the most extraordinary unity levels amongst the working-class formations, and all our allies, to work flat out to mobilise the entire society behind our legitimate demands.
We see the protests and strikes on February 24 as a way to wake up the Treasury, so that it no longer stands in the way of a humane reaction to Covid-19, whether that be through improved grant financing to the poor and working masses, or more generous funding to a public healthcare system hit by austerity. This is, still, a time all hands must be on deck: to provide mutual aid and public services to those suffering, to get free vaccines into all our people’s arms, and to thereby revive our waning hopes that South Africa can become a humane society.