Delivering his State of the Nation address (Sona) on Thursday night, Ramaphosa said the government plans to expand support to poor families “to ensure that no person in this country has to endure the pain and indignity of hunger”.
The expansion of the social protection system — which, the president noted, currently reaches 18 million people every month — will happen alongside efforts to grow the economy and create jobs, two subjects which dominated Ramaphosa’s address. “Without this support, millions more people would live in dire poverty,” he said.
Calls for expanded income support intensified over the course of the pandemic, which triggered mass job losses and threatened to plunge segments of the population even deeper into poverty. The R350 grant was reinstated after the civil unrest that swept through Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal last July.
Since the pandemic’s onset, the social relief of distress grant has provided support to more than 10 million unemployed people, Ramaphosa noted, adding that some of these beneficiaries used the R350 to start businesses.
The president acknowledged that extending the grant, and the possibility of it becoming a permanent feature of South Africa’s social support system, will probably burden the country’s already strained fiscus.
“As much as it has had a substantial impact, we must recognise that we face extreme fiscal constraints,” he said. “A fiscal crisis would hurt the poor worst of all through the deterioration of the basic services on which they rely.”
Later this month, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana will deliver his maiden budget speech, in which he is expected to provide details on where the money for the extended grant will come from.
The grant will be extended to the end of March 2023. During this time, Ramaphosa said, “we will engage in broad consultations and detailed technical work to identify the best options to replace this grant”.
“Any future support must pass the test of affordability and must not come at the expense of basic services or at the risk of unsustainable spending,” the president added.
“It remains our ambition to establish a minimum level of support for those in greatest need.”