Over the past few weeks, the government has been frantically trying to craft responses to the outbreak of the coronavirus. In some instances their responses, albeit well intended, have failed to understand the severity of the everyday lived realities of the majority of South Africa’s poor people.
One such example is moving the old-age pension payout day from the April 30 to May 4th and 5th, with other beneficiaries only getting theirs from May 6. For many of us, the old age pension does not reach the end of the month. Most of our food and other essentials started running out from April 15.
The shifting of the date is the result of a misdiagnosis of the cause of the problem last month. It was caused because of government travel and time restrictions, and fear because the lockdown had already been implemented. Given that we were the last people in South Africa to collect our money, we were terrified that our children would go hungry after seeing all the panic buying that was happening across the country.
Delaying the payment date is not a helpful solution. By May 4 hunger would have multiplied in a million stomachs. We are going to be desperate; very hungry, angry and afraid. This desperation brings the risk that there will be no physical distancing in taxis, banks, post offices, pension pay points, supermarkets, insurance companies and other debt payment points.
We are very scared that this will lead to chaos, leaving people injured in the waiting lines or killed by the police and South African National Defence Force while just trying to get money and buy food. This would be horrific and is entirely avoidable.
There is no reason to delay the payment date. The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) can still separate pensioners from other beneficiaries by starting payments on April 28, so there can be staggered visits to payout points.
We can be kept safe, without being forced to face additional days of hunger, on top of all the weeks before the pay date.
Over and above that, there’s also the threat of hunger killing us before Covid-19 does. Our pensions are a buffer under normal circumstances. Our pensions help our families survive. The old age pension has become even more important now, given that the current crisis is leaving many of our children unable to earn an income or unemployed.
We need to spend money to protect ourselves against the virus. And with children being home, more money is being spent on groceries and hygiene products at a time in which supermarket prices have significantly increased. Increasing the pension to R2500 will not only help us to be able to better protect ourselves but will also stop us from starving.
Through pensions, government can get money quickly into 3.55-million homes and with this money we can each support our families. All this money will go directly into the economy and help to keep it moving in every part of the country. As we’ve pointed out in the past, our pensions help our families survive and boost the economy. Increasing our pensions to R2500 will also allow us to spend more money where we live.
For far too long we have carried the burden of the economic crisis, we cannot also now be expected to carry the consequences of the lockdown, all the additional job losses and all the people that are now going to get sick. The burden is too heavy now; we can’t carry it.
We need government to immediately reverse its decision to delay the payout date to May 4, and instead bring it forward to April 28, so payments can be staggered from then. We also need government to increase the value of the old-age grant to R2500 a month. This will help to protect us whilst ensuring that we don’t starve.
Sassa maybe does not understand us or the situation we live in and they have made a terrible error. But they still have time to fix it and avoid what has the potential to become a national catastrophe.