By Israel Nkuna
We don’t want a BIG out of laziness, we need it because, without it, our poverty will kill us. If I ask any woman or man in my community if they want to work, they will say ‘I am ready to work — just tell me where and when’. The BIG and decent-paying jobs must happen together.
My name is Israel Nkuna, a community activist from a small village called Mahlathi near Giyani in Limpopo, who receives the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant. Every month, I assist around 500 people in all nine provinces with their SRD grant applications.
I have serious questions about the ‘household grant’ that we hear the National Treasury is considering.
Who is the head of a household — is it a man who has a wife and children in Mahlathi but spends months living and working in North West, where he has another family? Which household will receive the household grant? What will happen if the man receives the household grant and withholds it from the family? Or if the mother receives the grant, but she’s not able to spend it on herself and her children because of an abusive husband?
What about a family with no parents, just young brothers and sisters, some with drinking and drug problems? Who receives the household grant, and how will you make sure everyone in that family can buy food and put money aside?
How will the government register all these families and heads of families, and make sure this grant gets to the people who need it?
These questions trouble me, especially when I think about all the problems we’ve had with the SRD grant. The Treasury says they have consulted with people. But they haven’t consulted with people like me and those in my village — if they had, they would know the problems we face.
The majority of people I help with SRD applications don’t know technology and don’t have smartphones to apply for the grant. Even if I can assist them, the Sassa system often declines them. How will a family grant application work any better?
We need a Basic Income Grant/guarantee (BIG) without a complicated, faulty application process. We need a BIG at a decent level that’s given to individuals so they can access their own funds.
And we need it now.
There are many things we have to pay for to survive in my community. A simple thing like getting water is a problem — I have to spend R5 for 20 litres of water and I don’t have a choice. We have a gravel road that is in a bad state — if we need to buy something in town, if we have to go to a government office, if we want to get our sick relatives to a clinic, we have to pay to get there. We don’t have a choice.
If we want to look for work, we have to pay, too. But there is no work to be found for many of us in our community. For someone over 40, if they don’t have work now, they are not going to find it for the rest of their life.
We don’t want a BIG out of laziness, we need it because without it, our poverty will kill us. If I ask any woman or man in my community if they want to work, they will say ‘I am ready to work — just tell me where and when’. The BIG and decent-paying jobs must happen together.
My community believes in education. But our daughters and sons cannot learn if they cannot eat. They cannot learn if they can’t afford the bus or the taxi fare to get to school. They cannot learn if they see their family around them starving.
A BIG would support families so it’s easier to send our daughters and sons back to class.
For those people like me, who do receive the SRD, we are able to buy maize meal, cooking oil, potatoes, soap, and washing powder. But R350 is equal to R11 a day — that’s not enough to live on. I’m unable to buy clothes and healthy foods. I’m unable to save money to go to the clinic when I feel sick. I’m unable to save to pay a funeral parlour for a deceased relative, or to buy the many things that are needed in a household.
The BIG would be a guarantee — not a handout — that everyone in this country can have their basic needs met. What else should our government be working towards?
Let’s make the BIG something South Africans can be proud of, not something to be ashamed of. Let it save lives, save our daughters and sons from starvation, let our women live safely, let all people live with dignity, give them a chance to build something and contribute to their communities and our economy. Let us resist a household grant and insist on a BIG for individuals.