This piece will highlight the importance of development and the ideology brought forward by Kabeer (2005) surrounding disempowerment. The three concepts of disempowerment namely, agency, resources, and achievement will elaborate on the notion of poverty and inequality within South Africa. A notable development that will be reviewed will be the R350 COVID-19 Social Relief Distress (SRD) grant implemented by the government through the National Treasury, the World Bank, COSATU, as well as the implementing actor, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the South African National Post Office (SAPO). Moreover, the critical analysis within this paper will review the role each actor has played in ensuring the most vulnerable groups were able to receive the grant, with attempts at closing the poverty gap at the food poverty line. Additionally, a possible outcome will be detailed in efforts to create an advanced and more inclusive resilient social contract in South Africa with emphasis on the social grant. Lastly, a rapid assessment of the grant will be analyzed as to whether the grant will be implemented into the National Treasury’s 2022/2023 fiscal year at the expense of taxpayers.
Covid-19 SRD grant
The introduction of R350 SRD grant was introduced in April 2020 to relieve the distress imposed on people who had suffered directly from the COVID-19 pandemic, while nine million people applied directly for the grant.1 Moreover, the introduction of the social relief grant was meant to be used as a short-term measure with a duration of six months ending in October 2020. However, due to the increase in unemployment due to the widespread looting and unrest in July 2021 in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, civil society groups and political parties demanded government extend the social grant.1 According to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a catalyst for growth and development in developing worlds would be to alleviate poverty. However, a basic income grant of R350 is widely criticized by civil societies who argue that the amount is not enough to bridge the gap of the poverty line.
Kabeer (2005) argues that disempowerment is the “ability to be denied choice”, it is the clear opposite of empowerment, where people can use their power of choice for agency, resources, and achievement. “Empowerment enables change, people who exercise a great deal of choice in their lives may be very powerful, but they are not empowered”.2 As the author suggests the power of choice is embedded in certain conditions affiliated with choice. This is seen in many South Africans who have little or no level of proper education which in turn creates a life of poverty driven by cheap labour or minimum wage. The introduction of a basic income grant develops the third concept Kabeer (2005) highlights as “achievement”. “Resources and agency make up people’s capabilities, the term achievements refers to the extent to which this potential is realized or fails to be realized; the outcomes of people's efforts”.2 Furthermore, the concept of the three would not rely on a basic income grant alone, but the decisive efforts to be schooled further, liberated in their current setting, or could make a choice that would contribute to their level of empowerment. Although the basic grant only provides a percentage of empowerment in development, communities with little choice depend largely on this income to survive or to feel a sense of ‘choice and survival’.
South Africa as a fragile state?
South Africa would not be considered a fragile state as suggested by the OECD States of Fragility 2018 report, however, the elements of security and economic adaptability offered to citizens can highlight South Africa as more developing than fragile. Connolly states that the notion of a fragile state has changed over the years considering the country's functionality. Moreover, South Africa has endured an oppressive system brought forward by apartheid during the twentieth century, while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) created a platform for forgiveness against the fathers of apartheid while facilitating the mechanisms of education, housing, and health care as a social contract. “Fragility suggests, indicates similar characteristics to that of a failed state but does not imply the complete collapse of all areas of the state”.3 The recommendation that a fragile state resides on one end of the spectrum would depend on its resiliency, the introduction of a R350 SRD Grant shows how the government adapted to the circumstances of unemployment by the introduction of financial empowerment to the most vulnerable groups. Additional developmental gains by the African National Congress (ANC) government can be seen in the implementation of disability grants, old-age grants, as well as a child grant. All these financial measurements are suitably equipped to accommodate the circumstances by which these groups are suppressed.
A possible outcome to improve the social relief grant
According to an article circulated by Business Tech, the Social Development Minister, Lindiwe Zulu, noted that the introduction of a new basic income grant would be phased in over the years, while her department pushed for an extension on the R350 SRD as a “baseline”. Moreover, another notable actor in implementing the SRD grant would be the World Bank which approved an R11,3 billion development policy loan to South Africa.4 It was noted that the loan would be used in the financing and spending on “critical health and social safety net programs”. In addition, President, Cyril Ramaphosa, stated that the government would facilitate a feasibility and affordability study which provided some means of “income support for the poor and unemployed”.4 Additional media coverage published by SABC news noted that the ANC considered extending the SRD grant. Chimombe explained how the ANC was considering extending the R350 SRD grant at the expense of taxpayers.1 Several articles circulated by Business Tech highlighted that the extension of the R350 SRD grant as well as the implementation of a basic income grant could cost taxpayers R35 million annually.4 “Finance Minister, Enoch Godongwana, has previously indicated that any SRD extension would be contingent on further upsides to the country’s revenue performance”.5
Moreover, it was highlighted that the social grant would aim to alleviate the predicament of the poor and unemployed. Additional actors who called on the government to extend the grant was the trade federation, COSATU, which explained the grant introduced a basic income for people who had either lost their jobs or had been directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.5 It was noted that Cyril Ramaphosa, Enoch Godongwana, and Lindiwe Zulu, held a civil meeting in January 2022 to discuss a “possible extension of the grant” to meet a basic income grant. “The meeting affirmed the need to work towards affordable and sustainable social protection mechanisms that complement job creation and drive local demand, with due consideration of the fiscal implications,” the presidency said.5 Additionally, the decisions made by the relevant stakeholders would need the assistance of organizations on the grounds of social protection measures that would engage with the country’s current circumstances. A clear cohesion plan implemented in monitoring and evaluation can effectively monitor the need for a basic income grant, and the ANC can facilitate the implementation of a feasibility study based on the number of people living beneath the poverty line. The decision to empower South Africans is imperative and based on the relationships between the government, civil organizations, and stakeholders. This cohesion can ensure that development is enforced under the preamble of empowerment.
The introduction of the R350 SRD grant can create an environment that develops the social contract of the most vulnerable groups. The careful introduction and partnership with relevant stakeholders, such as SAPO, SASSA, COSATU, and civil society groups can ensure that the extension of a social grant can facilitate development in groups affected directly by COVID-19. Relevant stakeholders such as the World Bank highlight the need for assistance by the Global North, however, the introduction of a basic grant long-term emphasizes the need for financial support in empowering groups that struggle with basic choices based on poverty and the Gini-coefficient in South Africa. Creating economic relief for a society entrenched in poverty can improve the discourse of development found in South Africa, as well as the ideology that South Africa lacks suitable coherence among state actors as well as civil organizations.
1 Chimombe, B. (2022, January 24). ANC is considering extending the COVID-19 grant. SABC News.
2 Kabeer, N. (2005). Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Critical Analysis of The Third Millennium Development Goal 1. Gender And Development, 13(1), 13-24.
3 Connolly, L. (2013). Fragility and the State. Accord.
4 Business Tech. (2022, January 2). R11.4 billion World Bank loan could be used to help fund new grants for South Africa: economist. Business Tech.
5 Business Tech. (2022, January 25). Extending South Africa’s R350 grant by another year to cost taxpayers R35 billion: economist. Business Tech.
United Nations. (2015). Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.