- The Black Sash is leading an urgent call to extend the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant.
- The grant is meant to tide poor people over during the Covid-19 pandemic, but is due to end on Friday.
- A group of NGOs have now joined the call for the grant to be increased to at least R585, the current food poverty line.
The Black Sash is leading an urgent call for the extension of the R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRD) which is due to end on Friday.
"We know that tomorrow [Friday] the grants will be terminated unless something happens," said Shaeera Kalla of the #Paythegrants campaign during a press briefing.
She said people were hungry, with desperation fuelled by the pandemic and budget cuts.
During the briefing, a host of civil society organisations sounded the alarm over the struggle for survival during the Covid-19 pandemic, which compounded already existing poverty.
The Black Sash's Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker said it was reported on Thursday that Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu had asked Treasury to heed the call for an extension.
"There is no rationale for this grant to end," said Abrahams-Fayker.
Letters had already been sent to the presidency and government departments and an open letter was delivered to the social department department and to the SA Social Security Agency.
A response on Wednesday confirmed receipt of the letter, but did not shed light on what would happen regarding the grant.
Representatives of domestic workers, informal traders and seasonal farmworkers stressed that the grant had helped the vulnerable and needed to be extended.
The Black Sash, and its supporters, asked that not only should the grant be extended, but that it be raised to R585.
Bishop Victor Phalana, head of the department for justice and peace for the Catholic Bishops Conference, said that without the SRD, there would be a rise in hunger, malnutrition and crime.
Shayk Zaid Dantie of the Muslim Judicial Council said: "We are calling on the government to extend the Social Relief of Distress Grant until such time that the government comes up with a permanent solution to resolve the challenge that people are facing."
Myrtle Witbooi of the SA Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union said domestic workers were the hardest hit since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The power to get any form of relief lay in the hands of employers who had to help them complete applications for government relief.
She said those who managed to get the grant could not even cover extras like data or a small treat for a child.
Collette Solomon from Women on Farms said that women made up the majority of seasonal farmworkers. Although their work was crucial to making sure there was food for the nation, they could go for up to six months without work out of season.
She said many of these women depended on a male partner for financial support, which exacerbated their vulnerability.
There were immediate positive results for those who could get the grant. She said it increased women's financial independence; they were able to buy nutritious food and could keep their debt down during the off-season.
She said many women were also able to put aside small amounts to save for school uniforms or shoes.
According to the SA Social Security Agency's (Sassa) website, the grant was intended for unemployed people who do not receive any form of income, social grant or Unemployment Fund payment.
To make matters worse, there was a delay in payments to some recipients in March, due to a transition between one financial year and another.
There was no word yet by Thursday afternoon on whether the grant would be extended.
In the meantime, the Sassa this week launched an online application platform for temporary disability grants.
This application was intended to make the process smoother, and reduce congestion around SASSA offices where applicants were sprayed by a water cannon at the Bellville office.
General Alfred Moyo, a #Paythegrants campaign coordinator in Gauteng, said that during the past week, people told them they would be left devastated when the grant ends.
He said that to their surprise they also found that many communities did not even know the grant would be terminated from Friday.
Pickets are planned for Friday in Gauteng and other parts of the country at Sassa offices and at Post Offices to lobby for the grant to continue, and that it be increased to at least R585.
SA Federation of Trade Unions spokesperson Trevor Shaku said although R350 was below the cost of living and the poverty line, it was important to the unemployed and people who could not find jobs.
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