President Cyril Ramaphosa said beneficiaries of the social relief of distress (SRD) grant will receive their money next week.
CIVIL society groups have welcomed a commitment by President Cyril Ramaphosa to resume payment of the social relief of distress (SRD) grant with back pay over the next week, after a two-month delay.
Ramaphosa made the announcement during a media question and answer session shortly after delivering his response to the budget vote debate on Friday.
However, the organisations have raised concerns that the new eligibility criteria for the grant would exclude more than a million people in need.
Government’s decision followed pressure from civil society to resolve the matter amid renewed calls for the introduction of a universal basic income grant (UBIG) after the SRD grant expires in March next year.
Millions of people rely on the grant, first introduced to offset the impact of Covid-19, were not paid in April and May after the government changed the qualification criteria for beneficiaries.
The Black Sash said as many as 11 million out of 15 million were successful in their applications due to the means test and administrative hurdles introduced in March.
The advocacy group described the non-payment of the grant as “inhumane, a scandal and a national disgrace”.
The Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) expressed relief at the announcement.
“It doesn’t take away the fact that people were left waiting for several weeks and the impact that the delay had is difficult to overstate. We hope there will be no further issues regarding the payment of the grant,” said spokesperson Kelle Howson.
She said the lowering of the income eligibility threshold to R350 from the previous R595 would now exclude many beneficiaries who had previously received the grant.
Howson also said the introduction of the means test and eligibility criteria was beyond the government’s capability to administer.
“In South Africa, there are about 13.4m people without an income and 18.3 million people live below the food poverty line. There are many people in need who will be excluded,“ added Howson.
She reiterated earlier demands for the introduction of the basic grant and said the recent delays underscored the need for a grant to be provided to all vulnerable persons.
The campaign, #PayTheGrants, expressed dismay that the resolution of the R350 grant only came after pressure from civil society.
Spokesperson Francina Nkosi said had government officials gone without salaries for two months, there would have been chaos, yet millions of vulnerable people were left without social assistance.
“We will monitor the payment of the grant to ensure that our communities receive it and are able to buy necessities. We also demand transparency on decisions taken regarding the grant so we can continue to hold the government accountable,“ said Nkosi.
According to Black Sash, the government had underfunded the SRD grant and its R44 billion budget would only provide for 10.5 million people, about 400 000 less than the number approved.
The organisation said the government failed to put systems in place for payment, including agreements with banks to verify applicants’ status.
“The state does not have the capacity to do means-testing and therefore has to outsource this to banks, an unnecessary use of resources that could have been directed to more beneficiaries,” the Black Sash said in a statement.
The organisation also called for the reinstatement of post offices as outlets to receive the R350 SRD grant to benefit rural beneficiaries.
The Department of Social Development did not respond to questions.