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Feature: South Africans urge GVT for basic income grant to combat poverty line

JOHANNESBURG,(The Southern African Times) – As a construction worker and gardener Weza Thole had been financially supporting himself through part-time jobs for several years, but the pandemic has dried up those opportunities.

When he was desperate for employment, he stood at William Nicol Drive and Grosvenor Road, Bryanston, North of Johannesburg with a placard bearing the words “looking for a job!”.

Standing here used to help him land garden jobs that can pay him up to 600 rands (about 41 U.S. dollars) after three days of work. “In a day, I can get 300 rands for a plastering job but it depends on who you work with. Now it’s hard to find any jobs,” he said.

While the government introduced the 350 rand Social Relief of Distress Grant for citizens left devastated by the pandemic, he was unable to access it. “When I went to the post office to collect, I was told that my name is not there but on the system, it showed that I have applied.” In his current situation, any form of assistance will be greatly appreciated by him, the 28-year-old said.

South Africa’s recent unrest has drawn attention to its high levels of inequality, poverty, and other socio-economic challenges. In response to the July unrest, the government has commenced exploring initiatives to combat poverty in the short term.

If the government could introduce the Basic Income Grant, it could help when job opportunities dry up, says Thole who lives in Diepsloot.

According to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, a basic income grant is being finalised.

“The need to introduce the basic income grant has become an urgent consideration for the African National Congress-led government. To this end, the department has developed a Basic Income Grant (BIG) discussion document that we have started consultations on,” She said in June.

After the unrest, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged it was considering different methods to alleviate poverty. “We are giving active consideration to the grinding poverty that we continue to see in our country. We need to address the structural inequalities in our economy.”

Duma Gqubule, a director at the Centre for Economic Development and Transformation, said the basic income grant could serve as a “game-changer in the post-apartheid era.”

The grant could have a transformative effect, considering that millions of people have been excluded from the economy, he said. “It would allow more people to participate in the economy. It could be the most transformative policy since 1994,” he noted.

He said South Africa’s social security policies mainly focus on people too young and old to work. However, the grant could help people in the informal sector of the economy.

“Informal sector workers will use it to buy food and also spend it on transport, airtime costs.” He proposed that the basic grant should start from 585 rands a month. Gqubule said the grant could also stimulate the economy through spending. “Through this grant, we can address the issue of poverty,” he added.

His sentiment was shared by Isobel Frye, director at the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute. Frye told SAT a basic grant should be for everyone as some workers earn very low wages. She said it is clear that minister Zulu is committed to the basic grant. Frye said the income grant must be above the upper bound poverty line of 1,268 in order to have an immediate impact. “It will take everybody out of poverty. It will be enough to leapfrog everybody out of poverty,” she said. Providing citizens a grant will make them “active consumers”.

According to their calculation, this will cost the National Treasury around 240 billion rands per annum. Though there has been opposition to the grant from the business sector due to financial constraints, she said there are several ways to raise these required funds to make the grant a reality. 

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