South Africa needs progressive policies now

Presently, South Africa suffers from chronic inequality, mass unemployment and hunger. The crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) has made the already bad problem of poverty worse.

The crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) has made the already bad problem of poverty worse.

South Africa underwent a large-scale lock down on 26 March, restricting people from moving out of their homes and allowing only essential services to continue. People facing strict lock down are suffering due to inadequate access to food, job loss and uncertainty about whether their economic situations will improve after the lock down. In fact, South Africa’s economy has faced an investment downgrade and is within a serious recession.

The South African Reserve Bank responded on 14 April 2020 by lowering the repo rate from 5.25% to 4.25%. This would mean many people will pay less for loans from the bank. This intends to save money for people. But there is little clarity about what more will be done to address the crisis.

After Tito Mboweni, the South African Minister of Finance, suggested a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank (WB), he faced backlash from the ruling African National Congress and its alliance partners. The government relaxed regulations banning informal trading and limiting passengers in minibus taxis after strong backlash from the people deeply affected by the lockdown. The Gauteng Liquor Board has threatened to take court action against the ban on alcohol sale, but this measure has been criticised by some major political parties. The official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has called for the implementation of lock down stages, effectively loosening lock down restrictions.

The C19 People’s Coalition is a group of over 225 progressive civil society organisations pushing for policies for the most deeply impacted from the economic consequences of COVID-19. They called on the South African government to double the amount given to each grant recipient and the creation of a permanent basic income grant. This proposal has been followed by a petition by the Cooperative and Policy Alternative Centre (COPAC) who have called for a monthly R4 500 cash transfer, funded by a wealth and carbon tax. A Basic Income Grant (BIG) or a Universal Basic Income Grant (UBIG) is a term for a very simple policy. South African citizens receive a monthly cash transfer from the government.

However, the Daily Maverick claim that Tito Mboweni is impeding on efforts to increase grant spending. There has been no official government response to suggestions for a basic income grant.

This means that people in South Africa do not know how the government plans to address the crisis. Making matters worse, the South African Presidency acknowledged the burning of schools, an increase in electric cable theft, and incidents of gender-based violence by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Apart from that, Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, has only offered platitudes, stating on 10 April 2020 that “we South Africans are a resilient people” who have “endured the worst excesses of a dark past and were able to emerge, united and strong.”

However, this crisis does not need just people to be resilient. It needs the government to enact progressive policies for these people.

However, this crisis does not need just people to be resilient. It needs the government to enact progressive policies for these people.

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