The fruit of the looting and unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal has become clear: even hungrier people in the poorest areas in the country, while getting help from government is very much like drawing blood from a stone.
These findings from the Household Food Basket survey in the Household Affordability Index done by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, shows how the unrest and looting in the two provinces impact the lives of the poor.
Government help welcomed but…
The group says it welcomes what looks like a greater commitment from government to provide relief to households, workers and small businesses, but given the reality on the ground, it is unlikely that the relief measures the president announced will be enough to prevent hunger and quell civil disorder to ensure recovery.
However, while security appears to have been restored for now, the group says conditions on the ground, which provided fertile ground for unrest, have not improved. Conditions have in fact deteriorated with the loss of life and jobs, as well as disruption of food value chains.
The loss of local supermarkets also means that people have to spend more money on transport to go and buy food and stand in long queues to get into a supermarket instead of shopping around for the cheapest prices.
The women living on low incomes, who did the price survey for the food basket, said that nearly every supermarket where they live was looted in Johannesburg and Durban. Some shops have reopened, but the majority have not, as most of the supermarkets are in malls which had significant structural damage.
Finding new shops that specifically target the low-income market and are reasonably affordably priced, means a long trip in a taxi far from where people live and very long queues to get into the supermarket, with people queuing up to six hours to get in and three hours to pay.
In areas such as KwaMashu in Durban, no shops have reopened and no cheaper supermarkets are close by. The women say prices in the supermarkets that have been able to reopen and the new supermarkets they visit now are “already unbelievably much higher”.
Poor women are traumatised
The women say the unrest, as well as the security response when it came, has been extremely traumatising. It also happened at the time of the month when food typically runs out and they had to run the gauntlet to find food. Add to this the sheer panic to feed children and finding a way to pay exorbitant prices at great personal risk.
They say it is hard to believe how quickly everything just descended into chaos, how lives and livelihoods and normal societal functioning could just implode in a matter of a few days. Women were already uncertain about their ability to keep their families safe and fed and now they are in an even worse situation.
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Assessing government’s relief measures
The group says government’s relief measures must be assessed against the plight of these women and their families. To the group it seems that government is still underestimating the extent and depth of the economic crisis at household level, as well as the frustration and anger of people, including the critical need for some level of certainty and confidence.
“Socio-economic conditions on the ground are untenable and considerably worse than they were even three weeks ago and far worse than they were in early 2020 when a broad range of relief was offered. Every day we delay proper relief these conditions will deteriorate.”
Government only reinstated one relief measure, the Covid Special Relief of Distress Grant for R350 and although mothers of children can now apply, it will not be enough to prevent household hunger. Deteriorating socio-economic conditions, deaths, jobs lost, higher food and electricity prices and no savings to fall back on as well as spiralling debt levels, there seems to be no way out.
What can be done?
The group therefore recommends that:
- the SRD grant be automatically added to the Child Support Grant for mothers to avoid another bureaucratic process to apply
- the SRD grant be automatically reinstated with no application process for those who have received it in the past and paid at the same time each month, every month so that mothers can plan how to use it
- the Old Age Grant must be used as a mechanism to transfer income into households as it is the central income in the absence of a decent working wage and the highest value grant available
- the Old-age Grant be topped up to R2 500 so that it can offer a relief value with other smaller grants
- the Child Support Grant be topped up to R1 000 as the July 2021 data from PMBEJD shows that it costs an average of R723,71 to feed a child a basic nutritional monthly diet
- the SRD Grant be increased to R1 000 to provide for other essential goods and service costs, including some ability to draw money to ensure that every week is better than the one before.
“Every single cent that is dispersed through a social grant acts to stimulate the economy. An emergency increase on grants saves lives and acts to maintain social functioning but it also is a direct investment in the economy.”
The group also recommends that government gets the Basic Income Grant (BIG) moving for everyone between the ages of 18 and 59 to offer:
- a relief value to meet the basic needs of people, plus an economic value of R1 000 so that people have capital to invest in a livelihood and create their own work, while also stimulating and transforming the economy
- an economic component to provide the possibility of finding pathways out of poverty.
When the BIG is implemented, the group says the SRD Grant can fall away.