President Cyril Ramaphosa in his address on 21 April 2020 pronounced on the government’s economic and social response to the Covid-19 global pandemic stating that, ‘the pandemic requires an economic response that is equal to the scale of the disruption it is causing’. He further explained that following meetings with different stakeholders, Cabinet considered various proposals and finalized the social relief and economic support package that stands at the centre of the second phase of the country’s economic response. The four-phased economic response valued at R500 billion is categorized as follows:
- First phase: will include an extraordinary health budget to respond to coronavirus.
- Second phase: the relief of hunger and social distress.
- Third phase: support for companies and workers.
- Fourth phase: the phased re-opening of the economy.
In this blog we speak to our community paralegals to investigate if the distribution of the economic stimulus package has been effective in disadvantaged communities – we focused on the following areas:
- The special Covid-19 social relief of distress of R350 for individuals who are currently unemployed and do not receive any other form of social grant or UIF payment.
- The payment of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) to employees whose employers cannot afford to continue paying salaries.
- The issuing of operating permits for informal traders.
Community paralegal journalist, Daniel Dibe from the Human Rights Legal Network in the North West says that citizens in Ventersdorp community are not well informed on how to apply for the special relief grant, on the morning we spoke to him he already had about twelve people in his office seeking assistance because SASSA had not allocated representatives in the area to assist citizens with the applications. Operating permits have also been a struggle to obtain and this has limited even NGOs to travel to rural areas to assist needy communities.
‘Batho ga ba itsi gore ba ye kae go fumana tshidimosetso’Daniel Dibe, Community Paralegal
‘People are also coming to our office to seek help with obtaining their UIF after being stopped at work, saying that their companies had promised to pay them but to no avail. At-least five people from Boikhutsong community told us that they had signed UIF papers but have been sent from pillar to post with minimal communication from their employers’ said Daniel Dibe.
Sophia Booysen, a community paralegal who works with Kgatelopele Social Development Forum in Northern Cape had this to say, ‘people in our community have not been able to apply for the R350 special grant because Department of Social Development (DSD) and SASSA offices are not open as yet and are said to be waiting for telephones to assist the community. We do help people with the information on how to apply but unfortunately, other people do not have the luxury of cell-phones and therefore cannot apply. Applications for permits have been rather smooth and people have been able to get them and operate. When it comes to UIF applications, people are reporting that their employers did not register them for UIF while others’ salaries have been cut without consultation’.
In Kwa-Zulu Natal where community paralegal Lindokuhle Macuacua from Kwadlangezwa Advice Office in Port Dunford is based, he says while some people in his community have received their UIF payments, some people have not been able to receive the Covid-19 UIF benefit – others say that when they check the Department of Labour’s online portal they discover that they were only paid half of what is due to them. A lot of people in Port Dunford have successfully applied for the R350 grant but are still waiting for the payment. Although it was the 15th of May, the day on which SASSA had promised the funds would have been paid.
We also spoke to James Chirwa from Messina Legal Advice Office in Limpopo to understand how the relief efforts have unfolded in his community. James says that applications for the special grant have been a huge challenge as people are being turned away by SASSA staff because of a shortage of staff – people were then referred to Louis Trichardt or Thohoyandou which is about 100 KM away from Musina. James further explained that when it comes to UIF; applicants have not been able to access the Labour department and were directed to get help from SASSA offices instead.
‘We have received reports that a lot of foreign nationals have not been declared by employers at the Department of Labour as required by law – and therefore are not receiving any contributions. It seems that a lot of employees have been cheated by their employers who have deducted this benefit from their salaries” said Chirwa. When talking about the access of operating permits for informal traders, James explained that a lot of traders are struggling to get these permits as they are not registered and regulated which means that they cannot operate and be able to provide for their families.
Judging from these reports, it seems that the relevant government departments have not been able to effectively manage and distribute the economic stimulus package especially in disadvantaged communities where implementation is most critical. The R350 special grant was supposed to be paid to qualifying applicants on the 15th of May 2020, but according to news reports, this was not the case in most areas. This is in addition to delays in payments for the May social grant where Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu had to apologize to some beneficiaries who were not paid because of a technical glitch.