14 July 2021
Joint statement: Government must acknowledge its role in creating South Africa’s social crisis and must urgently provide social relief, including bringing back and increasing the COVID-19 relief grant
Poverty and unemployment in a country with the highest wealth inequality in the world, and a government that fails to respond to the needs of its people, have fuelled the current civil unrest in South Africa. COVID-19 and strict lockdown regulations – without enough social relief from the government – have worsened the hardship that people already face everyday.
Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) are deeply troubled by the violence we have seen in our communities, and we are bitterly saddened by the lives lost. We condemn any political opportunism that exploits hunger and suffering, and encourages criminality. We equally condemn the police and military using excessive force against our communities and the unleashing of force as the only proposed solution. We must protect everyone living in South Africa and demand accountable and responsible leadership.
Our hearts are heavy, but our hope in what young people can do to respond to izinto esizibonayo ekuhlaleni and around our country is unfailing. Young people, let’s use this moment in thinking about ii-future zethu, acknowledging the many injustices that have gotten us to this period of extreme rage ezitratweni zethu and ii-response zabantu kengoku in rechanneling that rage.
The members of EE – learners, post-school youths and parents from marginalised communities – are living the social devastation caused by deepening inequality. That there are not enough jobs in our country, that jobs have been lost, and that the already minimal COVID-19 relief grant was cruelly scrapped, has caused horrible suffering.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has not recognised government’s role in creating this social crisis, through the looting of public funds by politicians (even during a pandemic), and through anti-poor budgeting. Our government has cut funding for health, housing, social development and education, to reduce debt in response to the needs of global financial institutions – not the needs of the working poor. It is the unemployed and working poor who have had to carry the hardest burden of these budget cuts, alongside the crippling effect which COVID-19 has had on employment.
As the unrest continues and spreads, it is negatively affecting access to grocery stores and hospitals, and small businesses have been destroyed. We must stand against this destruction that impacts the food security, health, and livelihoods of large parts of our communities. However, we must also guard against the excessive use of force and abuse of power that we have already witnessed during our national lockdown.
Providing a guaranteed minimum income, in the form of a basic income grant, is one of the key ways to ensure relief from poverty and inequality. As the Black Sash has championed in its campaign for basic income support, this can be made possible by government reprioritising its spending, collecting more money through taxes, and good financial governance.
Government must right now commit to doing all it can to lessen the extreme hardship in our country, including by:
- Reintroducing and increasing the COVID-19 relief grant in the short-term, and introducing a basic income grant for the long-term;
- Stopping austerity and the cutting of spending on education, health and other social welfare areas;
- Ensuring that every single learner who qualifies for a meal from the National School Nutrition Programme, is able to get food everyday, whether they are learning from home or inside the classroom;
- Providing support to schools with enough resources to ensure a safe return for learners and teachers; and
- Being extremely careful in how it brings about calm, protecting the most vulnerable and their livelihoods. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community, wom_n and children are especially vulnerable.
We must be governed by a politics that centres and responds to the needs of our people. Our Constitution has created powerful ways for the people of South Africa to hold government accountable and be at the heart of its decisions, but these have failed and people have been left feeling powerless. We must reclaim these structures and ensure that they work to improve society. Those in power who undermine these processes, undermine our democracy.
Let us chart a way forward in responding to some of these issues, kubesithi abathi makubenjani kuze nathi sikwazi uphila kule South Africa but to do all of these things centering the idea of hope. We must continue to be engaged in the struggle against inequality. We must continue to organise ourselves.
“Without a minimum of hope, we cannot so much as start the struggle. But without struggle, hope… dissipates [evaporates], loses its bearings, and turns into hopelessness.” – Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of Hope.
To arrange for an interview, contact:
Jay-Dee Cyster (Communications Officer, Equal Education ) 082 924 1352 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Tad Khosa (Media and Communications Coordinator, Equal Education Law Centre ) 081 346 0180 email@example.com