Cynics might have dismissed welfare rights groups for grand-standing, self-righteousness, or trying to score some brownie points for lobbying for the extension of the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant for the destitute or people COVID-19 has pushed into a state of destitution. Indeed, the government’s resources are overstretched, and South Africa is only an upper middle-income country. Contrary to what some may think, the country does not have the infinite financial resources of an utopian middle eastern country with petro-dollars that can be spent on paying its citizens a salary for a life-time for, well, just being citizens.
However, the World Bank recognises South Africa as the world’s most unequal country, with a yawning gap between the haves and have not’s. And in this kind of society, individuals at extreme ends of the socioeconomic status may value R350 differently.
To those in the lap of luxury, from their sheltered existence, R350 could be what is spend on a partially-eaten, single meal for one outing at an upscale eatery. If you are that privileged, you would scoff at the hopeless loafers who queue for a pittance instead of ‘finding some piece job in town’. They would wonder, “Seriously, how can one live on three hundred and fifty in a month in this day and age?”
On the other hand, when you are destitute, R350 is a lifeline, the difference between starvation and survival. It would be worth every ounce of effort to endure the sweltering conditions, flared tempers from fellow beneficiaries in a slow-moving, long and winding queue to reach a pay point at the post office.
Truth be told, it must defy even rules of basic economics to budget R350 for a month, considering rising food inflation. However, there is a huge difference between having something to eat for a few days of a month and having nothing for the whole month.
Small wonder, recipients, both the elderly and those at an economically-active age, bewail that the end of the Covid grant has plunged them into depths of despair. They all share a common plight: “I don’t know where my next meal will come from?”
Of course, the COVID-19 grant of R350 for the destitute was only as a stop-gap measure to help people classified as destitute to survive the economic hardships that COVID-19 lockdowns brought to their hand to mouth existence. But there is no question that it’s termination will have a huge impact in poor households, depriving them of a means of survival.
Meanwhile the Department of Social Development has committed to paying approved but unpaid Covid-19 SRD Grant Beneficiaries.