The street of government grants

2012-02-25 17:24

East London and Joburg have the widest income gaps, report finds

Mahlangeni Street survives on government grants.

In the 14 semidetached brick houses and 28 back yard shacks along the road in the East London township of Duncan Village, residents survive on state payments made monthly to children, pensioners and the disabled.

Only five families living in brick houses on the street have breadwinners who hold down jobs, ­either as domestic or semiskilled factory workers, who don’t qualify for grants.

The World Cities Report of ­United Nations body UN Habitat placed East London and Johannesburg at the top of its list of cities with the widest income gaps in the world.

East London was given a Gini coefficent of 0.75 – a score in which a zero signifies absolute equality and one, a situation where one household has all the city’s ­income and everyone else gets nothing.

Less than 10 kilometres away from Mahlangeni Street lies the rich suburb of Bunker’s Hill where multimillionaire businessmen, senior politicians and top civil servants live behind high walls. In this suburb, a stone’s throw away from the beach and the greens of the East London Golf Club, palatial homes start at R7 million.

In Duncan Village, electrical wires precariously bound together with black insulation tape illegally connect houses and shacks to the grid. Loan sharks provide an essential business, with the interest rate somewhere between 30% and 50%.

An increase in social grant spending was what Mahlangeni Street inhabitants found interesting in Gordhan’s budget speech. From April 1, pensioners will ­receive a R60 raise to R1 200, child grants were increased to R280 and foster care grants will rise to R770.

At Number 861, Bongani Malemiah (49) lives with his partner, Ntombekhaya Joja, and their month-old baby in an almost bare single room shack, for which they pay R50 a month.

Their two elder children, aged seven and five, live with Joja’s pensioner mother in Tshabo Village, outside King ­William’s Town.

Malemiah sells scrap metal to supplement the family’s income, which consists of the R300 a week he earns as a mechanic and the monthly R540 in child grants they currently receive for their elder two children.

It it not clear how much of that reaches them. The ­baby has not yet been registered for welfare.

“This money’s not enough to survive. It’s just too little,” he said.

“We drink and I smoke, and then you think of all that is needed for the children’s schooling and our wellbeing. It means I have to borrow from ‘grootsakke’ (loan sharks) and then pay the high ­interest they charge.”

Next door at Number 862, 47-year-old shebeen owner Nosimo Mangaliso and her husband, Mabhelandile, knew little about the R3.9 billion Gordhan earmarked for providing informal settlements with electricity and toilets, the R1.4 billion for early childhood ­development and the R3 billion for more Grade R classes.

For the Mangalisos, money from liquor sales – mostly cheap wine – is supplemented by Mabhelandile’s R1 000 disability grant, which sustains the couple and their two unemployed sons.

“We live hand to mouth because the people here have no money to buy,” Mangaliso said.

“Most of my customers are my neighbours and take alcohol on ­account, and I only see that money at the beginning of the month. No one here works.”

A few houses away at Number 858, security guard Andile Makeleni (28) is one of 15 people who rent shacks in the yard of the Tsomi family at a cost of R50 a month. The young man from Engcobo in the former Transkei pays maintenance for his nine-year-old daughter back home. He is one of the few who don’t receive a grant, but his daughter gets one.

Gordhan’s budget will have little impact on his life.

“I earn too little to tax. I walk to work and pay nothing for this electricity. What will probably matter is whether my groceries will be ­affected, but the 58c (increase on a pack of 20s cigarettes) won’t make me quit,” he says.

Further down the road, two sets of parents do their best to ensure their young children get a decent education.

At the end of the street live John and Phumla Mbongisa, whose two children’s grants make up more than 60% of the family’s R1 020 monthly income.

And at Number 855, Mzwabantu and Nophelele Mdyogolo’s only ­reliable income is the R540 a month in government grants for their two ­children aged 15 and 11. Piece jobs sometimes increase this to R950.

They pay R50 rent for their two-room back yard shack and another R50 to maintain their illegal electricity connection.

“Yes, we appreciate the increase in grants, but other stuff like food, transport and school fees have all gone up. So I don’t think much will change,” said Nophelele. 

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