The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is appalled at how government is bungling the Social Relief of Distress Grant transition process. This bungling will affect millions of new and current recipients due to onerous delays, new application requirements and new income thresholds.

The spokesperson of the Department of Social Development said (to GroundUp) that new regulations would not affect current beneficiaries of the R350 monthly grant. But in reality, as the Daily Maverick’s Mark Heywood showed, the South African Social Security Agency system was “deactivated” and “consequently, a large number of SRD payments were not loaded in April.”

New applicants and current recipients are required by the new regulations to apply and reapply for the SRD Grant, now that it has migrated from the Disaster Management Act to Social Assistance Act. The regulations were only published on 22 April, an unjustifiably long 71-day delay since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the SRD Grant would be retained another year, in his State of the Nation Address.

Now we worry that these mishaps mean with the reopening of applications so late, many will not receive not only April grants, but even May grants. In addition, in a country bedeviled by the digital divide, others will find it difficult to apply because applications are exclusively online. Many poor people in villages and townships who desperately need income support do not even have access to smart phones and data.

There is no certainty that grants lost in April and May will be repaid later. But whether these will be backdated is not really the issue. Of concern is the revealing indifference of government to the inconveniences this sloppiness causes recipients of the SRD Grants.

We point out regularly that an unnecessary commitment to fiscal austerity has limited the life chances of millions, and by not adjusting the grant for inflation, i.e. leaving it at the same R350 introduced in 2020 means its buying power has shrunk to R308 in 2020 Rand.

We also point out that poor people face inflation that is much higher than wealthy South Africans; the IMF has estimated that this differential can be 2.5% higher, so the grant is actually now worth closer to R290/month in 2020 Rand. The current inflation spike in both energy and food prices, mainly caused by Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February, hurts our poorest citizens even more, especially with the Rand falling 7% against
the US Dollar since April 12.

The other gripe, which really affirms the commitment of government to neoliberal austerity, is the reduction of the eligibility threshold by almost a half, from R624 to R350. This new threshold will potentially exclude a vast share of the ten million who get the grant.

This further confirms our disgust for a government refusing to allow unemployed adults access to a Basic Income Grant (BIG) of R1 500, which is the real upper-bound poverty line, to cover each South African’s minimal costs of food, shelter and clothing. SAFTU, the Assembly of the Unemployed, the Cry of the Xcluded and other civic and social formations of the working class made that demand on the basis of the urgent need to save lives and to boost the economy from below, since the recipient of a state subsidy who is poor spends far more of their grant locally than do rich recipients of state largesse.

This is a demand that government is not willing to meet because of its commitment to fiscal consolidation — a neoliberal programme of budget cuts to social goods and services,
meant to please the global institutions of neoliberalism such as the Bretton Woods Institutions in Washington, DC, which government has senselessly borrowed more than $5
billion from the last two years.

It is against this background that we are calling on the working class in all its sections to organise, unite and mount a protracted fight back. We salute groups like #PayTheGrants, Black Sash, C19 People’s Coalition Cash Transfers Working Group and the Institute of Economic Justice who do firm advocacy on behalf of grant recipients. However, in spite of their valid policy recommendations and suggested regulatory amendments, it is clear that the iron hand of this brutal neoliberal government will only bend if confronted by mass mobilisation and mass action.

Our protests on 10 and 23 of February, on 25 April, and at upcoming May Day rallies are attempts to forge unity amongst the working class and build momentum to fight austerity and the capitalist onslaught on jobs and wages. In June, we are reconvening the Working Class Summit: the congregation of working-class formations in three of the main theatres of class struggle: students, communities and workers. We will continue to forge this unity and advance a programme of mass mobilisation and action.

Although our longstanding demand is a BIG of R1 500 (subject to adjustments in accordance with inflationary pressures in the future), we currently demand government not bungle the provision of the SRD Grants to the economically marginalised and
poorest of the poor.

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