Community activists, trade union members and the unemployed held protests under the banner of Cry of the Xcluded in major cities around the country ahead of the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) by Finance Minister, Enoch Godongwana. The protests were held in Cape Town, Gqeberha, Makhanda, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Mbombela. The protesters were demanding a basic income grant of R1,500 which they say meets the immediate needs of the unemployed. They also called for a just transition towards overcoming climate change that will not leave workers behind.
In Cape Town, the Xcluded marched to parliament and to the Civic Centre. In Gqeberha, meanwhile, about one hundred community activists held a peaceful march to highlight their frustration over high unemployment and the continued cuts in public funding. The group also demanded an immediate introduction of the general income grant to cushion the living conditions of poor people. The group gathered outside Brista House in Govan Mbeki Avenue before marching to Vuyisile Mini Square where they were addressed by various speakers. The demonstrators were members of various grassroots organisations that advocate for the improvement of the lives of poor people. They were led by Siyabulela Mama of the Cry of the Xcluded organization.
They sang revolutionary songs and held placards reading, “Stop Privatization,” “Basic Income Grant now”, “Unfreeze Public Sector Wage,” and “Tax the Rich.”
Mama told Elitsha, “The objective of this march is to register our anger with the treasurer that the masses of the unemployed are discontented with his austerity budget. We expect from his budget speech today that they tax the rich people and introduce a basic income grant of R1,500 per month for every unemployed person and casualised worker. There is statistics that notes that every week twelve million South Africans go to bed hungry and three million of that number are children. Hence the basic income grant will address this situation.
“Over the period of Covid-19 restrictions, 2,2-million workers lost their jobs. While we are facing a big challenge of unemployment, we have to contend with the problem of climate change. This is the reason we are demanding the creation of one million climate jobs. We need reindustrialisation that will create a low carbonised industry.”
Mama said the recently held climate change conference in Scotland is welcome but there should be a holistic approach and a just transition from using coal to renewable energy. He said, “We need a just transition. It should address the problems of high unemployment, dire poverty and action should be taken to end inequality in our economy. Communities should have the power to control the means of production.”
Protester, Vuyokazi Made said, “We don’t want family grant because it creates tension in the families, but the basic income grant is given to those people who are not working. People are hungry and jobs are being cut and the advent of Covid-19 pandemic worsened the situation. The government should assist in this regard.”
Ntombeyehle Nelana of Inyanda Rural Movement lamented the slow pace with which the government is giving out agricultural land to poor people. She explained, “Our organisation fights for the rights of the landless to have their own land. Poverty is rife in black communities because we don’t have rights to land ownership. Municipalities forbid us from using open spaces yet this will assist poor people to grow food both for their own consumption and for selling crops to earn an income.
“The government often releases insufficient money to fund groups of small-scale farmers or cooperatives. The money often is not enough for all members. Government officials have been telling us that they don’t have enough money. Other members have to wait for four years for their turn to get money. This is why we are saying down with budget cuts.”
The Cape Town leg of the protest went to parliament to deliver the memorandum. Photo supplied.
Andiswa Rhode of Treatment Action Campaign said most medical facilities in the province were buckling under shortages of staff due to budget cuts. She explained, “We have a problem of budget cuts which is affecting the filling of positions at several medical establishments. The shortage of staff puts unwarranted pressure on workers who get overworked, resulting in poor morale. Our clinics are understaffed and long queues are a norm. We have discovered that patients who are defaulting do so for fear of standing in long queues for prolonged periods of time. Nurses are always feeling fatigue. This exposes patients to poor services and there is a risk of being given wrong medication.”
However, Mama said it is not all doom and gloom as other families have taken it upon themselves to venture into income generating activities in order to escape the yoke of poverty. “Stokvels and backyard gardening are sprouting up and have come out stronger in our communities. We consider this as a good move that should be complemented by the basic income grant because people still need to pay electricity bills, water and other tariffs,” said Mama.
In his maiden speech, Godongwana, who is a the former general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), said that it is up to parliament to decide on whether to extend the R350 social relief of distress grant (SDR) for the unemployed beyond March 2022. The finance minister said that 9,5-million people continue to receive the SDR grant. He also said that they welcome the promise of funding for the transition to a low carbon economy.