Members of the Cry of the Xcluded spoke out against Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s austerity measures and budget cuts during a speak-out held outside parliament in Cape Town, where he was expected to deliver a mini-budget speech today. Wearing Cry of the Excluded T-shirts, they sang: “We don’t want a capitalist agenda” and observed a minute of silence for 50 people killed in Israel’s airstrike on Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza yesterday.
The Cry of the Xcluded was launched by South African Federation of Trade Unions, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the Assembly of the Unemployed on 12 February 2020 to unite the working class – employed and unemployed – in the struggle for jobs, services, and dignity.
Zane Poole, Western Cape chairperson of Cry of the Xcluded, said: “We are protesting against austerity and budget cuts, which affect the poor.” The austerity measures and budget cuts “badly affects how schools and hospitals operate” he said. He and other protesters want Godongwana to “stop budget cuts and fill vacancies in the public sector.”
Speakers at the protest expressed the fear that the finance minister will want to diminish the value of social grants whereas they want to see them expanded. “We want basic income grant to be implemented for all unemployed people. The current social grants are so little that people can’t even afford basic necessities,” said Poole.
Xolani Ngxathu, a leader of Komani Residents Association in Queenstown, Eastern Cape, said residents don’t get municipal services in Komani as a result of budget cuts. “The system shoves austerity down our throats. It badly affects municipal services,” he said.
Ngxathu called for Godongwana to pour more money into public schooling. “Private schools have higher matric pass rates than public schools. We say the government must put more money in public schools to improve their quality of education,” he said. Hospitals too are in urgent need of improvement: “Nurses don’t do their jobs with passion because they are overworked. The government must hire more nurses in public hospitals,” he said, appealing for Godongwana to set aside a budget to hire more cleaners to maintain hygiene in “dirty hospitals.” The funding for hiring more cleaners, nurses and other public servants, in his opinion can come from taxing the rich.
Mahlubandile Khuhlane, a leader of Unemployed People’s Movement in the Eastern Cape, also called for Godongwana to channel more cash into municipalities since public services are breaking down. “Unemployment in Makhanda is a result of underfunding of municipalities,” he said. Sewage spills have disrupted the construction of houses in Makhanda and residents can no longer be employed to deliver services. “If the government fixes the sewer system, it will be able to hire brick layers, plumbers and general worker to build houses,” he argued. “The government must change its municipal funding model and give municipalities more money.”
Sanitation services in the Western Cape was also identified as a problem. Namhla Geza, who stays in Gugulethu, said she wants Godongwana to set money aside to fix “bursting sewage pipes” in the townships. “We have old sewage pipes that often burst in Gugulethu. Our kids play with the faeces-infested water. We want the government to install new sewage pipes,” she said.
Geza added her concerns about the R350 ‘Covid’ grant: “I used to receive the R350 grant, but the government stopped it in October after a relative deposited R500 into my bank account. When I phoned Sassa [South African Social Security Agency] about the cancellation of the grant, the official that I spoke to said I now have a source of income.”
Lutendo Ramalebana, a director of corporate services at the treasury, received the protesters’ memorandum and said she would hand it to Godongwana. The memorandum demands that the minister do away with “budget cuts and the murderous policy of austerity.”
“Change the R350 SRD to a basic income grant of R1,500 per month,” it reads. The memorandum calls for Godongwana to provide “free basic services for all”, decent jobs for the unemployed and to do away with “privatisation and commodification” of basic services. He must set aside “additional funding especially for healthcare and education in rural areas,” reads the memorandum. It argues that the minister can end austerity by introducing a wealth tax and reversing tax breaks that it gives to corporations and big earners.