The Lockdown has been a period of unprecedented government intervention in post-apartheid South Africa. Interventions include the recently announced increase in Child Support and the introduction of a new Social Relief of Distress grant (also known as an unemployment grant) which offers recipients R350 per month. We asked our participants what they thought about the grants and whether they had impacted the lives of anyone they knew.
Welcomed Help in Troubled Times
Most diarists were relieved that provision was being increased for the country’s most vulnerable. Many had been concerned about the hunger and deprivation that were deepening in the poorest parts of Cape Town. They hoped that this might be a way of mitigating people’s desperation. As Fadwah writes, from Hangberg, grant support is a marked difference to the food parcels that have been arriving in local communities since the beginning of the lockdown. ‘The food parcels very useful’, she explains, ‘but cannot buy electricity or pay accounts or buy that much needed daily bread.‘
‘I think it’s a good idea as most people with children are not working or they don’t earn any income to feed the children’s, so it will help a lot’ – Gift, Imizamo Yethu.
‘The increase of social grant is the right decision because most of family are depending on 1 child or grannies grant and the amount is not enough for the entire family needs’ – Nolwando, Europe
‘My Aunt received the increase for her 2 children (Child support grant) it’s been a greater help she managed to buy winter clothes for them and bought more essential items needed for the house’ – Kungo, Shukushukuma
‘I think the government’s decision to increase social grants was a good idea to assist beneficiaries as they may not be able to hustle during lockdown. This will make a huge difference in their lives’ – Khaya, Khayelitsha
Confusion Over Logistics
Although a few diarists seemed reassured that the plan for distribution was clear, others remained unsure about how the grant could be accessed and unconvinced that it would be rolled out according to plan. This is particularly true of the unemployment grant: whereas the Child Support Grant will be increased for existing recipients, the unemployment grant will be rolled out to an entirely new cohort of people. For some, the details of that roll out remained unclear.
‘Lots of people in my community qualify for the grants but the problem is that the government has not said anything on how people can obtain this grant. Thats what I hear from people who want to apply for this grant… [there] is no relevant information… a lot of people have been asking me how can one get the grant but my answer is always the same that, ‘I do not know either’. So from my opinion the whole process has been poor in terms of the unemployment grant but the rest I have to say its been taken care of really well.’ – Lwando, Imizamo Yethu.
‘I don’t think the roll out plan is clear to everyone and there are still people who still don’t understand how the roll system works.’ – Esethu, Khayelitsha
‘They are complaining …The [phone] number that they send their details to apply for the grants has not led them to any help. They just receive replies that their applications will be considered.’ – Patsie, Khayelitsha
‘The new social grant roll out process is a waiting game their system is not responsive someone close to me have sent several emails and WhatsApp messages in the number that was circulating around Facebook.’ – Siphenathi, Khayelitsha
‘I also don’t understand why such process was put out on social media yet there’s no instruction put into place how they going too manage it if was it out of lock down yes I could have understood but in a time like now lock down you playing with fire a hungry person is a angry person.’ – Gassie, Woodstock Occupation
Early signs of confusion combined for some with the concerns over whether SASSA had the capacity to roll out a means-tested grant in the midst of crisis, although several diarists were also sympathetic to the scale of the task facing them in the coming weeks.
‘I’m very cynical about the Government’s ability to get the money to where it’s needed – a combination of incompetent municipalities, corruption and ill thought- through policies. Given the cost (in terms of man hours, bureaucracy, inefficiencies, as well as the grants themselves), I think they should just have a basic income grant available to all. SASSA can’t deliver, there’s too much paperwork and municipalities are overloaded. Having said this, I have no idea how well the roll out is going! Although I have seen photos of long (not social distance!) queues’ – Audioman, Newlands.
‘I fully support the government initiative… [but] Government needs to go back to the drawing board because there are a lot of people at the pay points with no social distance’ – Lumkile, Khayelitsha
Broader and Deeper Support Needed
Some welcomed the grant but felt that government support needed to go further. Sibusisu, from Woodstock, for example, highlighted that ‘prices of stuff in the shops has risen too high. So, the increment it doesn’t adapt to anything.’
Others were concerned with the longeivity of the change. ‘For me this decision can be given permanent[ly]’, argues Nolwando, because many people were not able to survive on the grants that they were receiving. Judy, in Newlands, agreed, ‘I think it is good that social grants are being increased…but these increases are long overdue and shouldn’t only apply during lockdown but should continue going forward.’
Mavis, in Block Six, also felt that grant provisions should be made available to key workers who were risking their lives in the crisis. ‘I don’t hear anything for doctors, nurses and security guards’, she reflected, ‘while they are the ones in a high risk and they work even during the beginning of lock down, the SAPS members, Spar staff and Shoprite got the increase during this lock down, my plea to government is to make this fair.‘
How can the government balance the need to limit poor management of the grants with the need to get grants out fast to those in need?
What role will digital platforms, such as WhatsApp, play in the distribution of grants and how successfully will they manage to bridge the digital divide?
Will the introduction of an Social Relief of Distress grant open up the possibility of a Basic Income Grant in the longer term?