Convert Covid-19 relief grant into ‘basic income guarantee’: Nzimande

SACP leader Blade Nzimande spoke at the launch of his party’s Red October campaign on Sunday. File photo.
Image: Antonio Muchave

SA Communist Party (SACP) leader Blade Nzimande has called on the government to urgently convert the Covid-19 social relief of distress grant (SRDG) into a “universal basic income guarantee”.

Speaking during the virtual launch of the party’s Red October campaign on Sunday, Nzimande said the grant, which is set to end this month, was a needed lifeline and without it households would fall into deeper distress.

The R350 grant was meant for unemployed citizens and qualifying foreign citizens during the lockdown. It was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this year.

Here are six key points from Nzimande’s address.

Responding to socio-economic difficulties with urgency

Nzimande said the levels of social distress caused by the job loss bloodbath, on top of existing crises, meant the government must respond with urgency to those suffering socio-economic difficulties.

“The SRDG of R350 per month has offered a survival lifeline to millions of South Africans. But that grant is due to expire at the end of this month. We cannot allow this to happen.

“The grant, which has been going to those who are not covered by pensions, UIF (unemployment insurance fund), or as caregivers by the child support grant, must now be converted as an urgent priority, into a universal basic income guarantee.”

Universal basic income guarantee

He said the basic income guarantee should be universal and not means-tested, to avoid costly administrative overheads.

“Without a basic income guarantee, without each adult in a household being able to contribute to the household income, the impact of all of the ‘triple H’ (health, housing and hunger) plus water campaigns will be severely limited.”

Hunger and malnutrition scandal

Nzimande said the scandal around hunger and malnutrition, in a country that produces enough to feed all its people, remains puzzling.

“Nearly 50% of South Africans are food insecure, yet our extensive but labour-shedding and capital-intensive commercial agricultural sector produces more than enough to feed SA.

“Hunger relates not to just having enough food but also, critically, having a nutritionally balanced diet. Apart from hunger, SA has a major diabetes crisis, which particularly impacts on working-class communities, reflecting poor nutrition.”

Water-scarce country

He said SA was a water-scarce country and there was an urgent need to rapidly change the country’s approach to water and sanitation.

“There are many sustainable technologies, some developed by an excellent cadre of South African researchers but we have failed to develop them for the market … the intellectual property, production.

“We need to connect our re-industrialisation programme to a just green transition, with the production of water and sanitation technologies that meet the desperate social needs of our people and country. These include technologies like a water-saving, non-sewered approach to sanitation, and obtaining energy from water flow in pipes.”

SA’s two-tier health system

Nzimande poked holes in SA’s two-tier health system where the private sector served 16% of the population with medical aids, while the “over-burdened and underfunded” public sector cared for the rest of the population.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of both. Even before the pandemic, the private health care system was dysfunctional and even those with medical aids were finding that coverage was running out before the last months of the year.

“To compound matters, the private health care system is parasitic on the public sector. Nurses and doctors are trained in publicly funded facilities.”

GBV pandemic

SA needed to tirelessly fight against the pandemic of gender-based violence (GBV), said Nzimande.

“The struggle for sustainable human settlements, for dignified and accessible health care, for access to safe water and sanitation, and against hunger all connect dynamically with the struggle against patriarchal oppression and all of its morbid symptoms.

“With dignified and accessible public health care, the survivors of rape will at least receive proper care and attention, and the basis for the effective prosecution of perpetrators can be effectively grounded.”

BY Unathi Nkanjeni

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