/ 6 January 2023

Basic income grant comes into sharp focus at ANC conference

Socialgrants000 1qz5up
The government will extend the social relief of distress grant until 2025. Photo: Pieter Bauermeister/AFP

Electricity supply and the economy took centre stage at the second leg of the ANC’s national conference this week, with delegates mandating the government to move with speed and prioritise critical maintenance at Eskom. 

The governing party held the second part of its conference by way of a hybrid process on Thursday. Commissions were held, where critical issues including the energy crisis, racism, women empowerment and gender-based violence were discussed. 

In the declarations announced on Friday morning by its new secretary general, Fikile Mbalula, the party resolved that the newly-elected national executive committee (NEC) must act with demonstrable urgency to address the shortcomings and setbacks that threaten to undermine and erode South Africa’s democratic gains. 

Central to this is the recovery of Eskom and the chronic poor economic performance that has resulted in a high rate of unemployment, poverty and inequality, which have led to rising lawlessness, criminality and violence.

ANC delegates mandated the government to move decisively to end load-shedding and stabilise electricity supply. 

Eskom still has to find a new chief executive after Andre de Ruyter resigned, which comes into effect at the end of March. The power utility has struggled to generate sufficient electricity over the past year, and has had to place the country on stage six load-shedding on several occasions. 

The South African National Defence Force personnel have been sent to four of Eskom’s power plants in Mpumalanga under threats of sabotage and vandalism. De Ruyter has been under intense pressure from high-ranking ANC leaders and cabinet ministers, with Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe accusing Eskom of actively agitating for the overthrow of the government. 

“Priority must be given to speeding up the resolution of the energy crisis, in particular undertaking critical maintenance at Eskom so we return existing generation capacity to reliable service,” the ANC resolution statement reads.

“We must transform and grow the economy so that it creates jobs and empowers Africans in particular and blacks in general, particularly the youth, women and people who live in townships and rural areas. We must introduce new measures to cut red tape and ensure small enterprises, cooperatives and informal businesses, particularly those owned by women and young people, have effective means of raising finances, and accessing markets.”

Land expropriation without compensation

The ANC reiterated its call for the government to prioritise unlocking the potential of the country’s land for employment, rural development, food security and economic development. But the party made no mention of the land expropriation without compensation bill, which it has been championing in parliament. 

It said the government must bring underused land into production and enable the state to acquire agricultural land for distribution to previously disadvantaged people.

The ruling party began the process to amend section 25 of the Constitution in 2019 after its 2017 Nasrec conference resolution in favour of land expropriation without compensation. At the time, President Cyril Ramaphosa said a comprehensive land reform programme that enables equitable access to land would unlock economic growth, by bringing more land in South Africa to full use, and enable the productive participation of millions more South Africans in the economy.

The decision to implement the resolution was seen as a strategic move to counter the Economic Freedom Fighters ahead of crucial 2021 local government elections. The EFF had thus far dominated public debate at the constitutional amendment review hearings on land.

Some ANC leaders, including Ramaphosa, appeared to be taking a softer stance by insisting that the Constitution in its current form allowed for land expropriation without compensation.

Basic income grant 

The contentious issue of a universal grant came under discussion at the party’s commissions this week, with delegates resolving that the government must continue with the social relief of distress grant introduced to mitigate the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, while “investigating modalities and affordability of the basic income grant”. 

The universal grant debate has become a point of contention in Ramaphosa’s cabinet, with some of his allies hesitant on it becoming part of the government’s policy in light of the country’s heavy debt load. 

Some cabinet members who spoke to the Mail & Guardian in 2021 said that then finance minister Tito Mboweni had been placed in the uncomfortable position of having to find money to support this initiative.

In July 2021, at the height of the Covid-19 hard lockdown, Mboweni announced a R39 billion relief package, which has been financed using better-than-expected revenue collection — the result of higher earnings in the mining industry because of a commodities boom — and by reprioritising the budgets of the departments of trade and industry and small business.

The majority of the money has been allocated to the renewal of the R350 social relief of distress grant, which will cost R26.7 billion.

In October last year, Finance Minister Enoch Godogwana extended the Covid-19 social relief of distress grant for another year until the end of March 2024. The grant was introduced in May 2020 as a pandemic lifeline to the most vulnerable in society and has been extended several times since. It now reaches some 7.4 million South Africans. 

Keeping it in place for the current financial year is costing the state R44 billion, but it is estimated that R220 billion would be needed to introduce a universal income support grant.

State capture recommendations

ANC delegates have urged party leaders to place state transformation on the agenda. This includes transforming the three arms of the state and all its critical structures. This, they said, encompassed institutionalising integrity and ethical leadership across the state. 

“In this regard, the ANC-led government will push ahead with the implementation of the outcomes of the state capture commission. We must push ahead with the reforms to professionalise the public service to ensure capacity and stability in the state,” the ANC document stated.

“Through institutions such as the national school of government and the public service commission, we must continue to recruit the best skills in society and, more importantly, recruit capable and ethical women and men to serve the people of South Africa.”

In July last year, the ANC committed to confronting the adverse findings in the Zondo state capture report head-on, saying it would haul its 200 members named in it before the party’s integrity commission. 

But the party failed to keep its commitment, with the integrity commission report suggesting that it only met 12 ANC leaders in 2022. Zondo found that the governing party enabled state capture by turning a blind eye to grand corruption that bled the state dry under the Jacob Zuma administration.

Among those named in Zondo’s six-part report are key allies of Ramaphosa, including Mantashe and Deputy State Security Minister Zizi Kodwa, who accepted gifts respectively from companies Bosasa and EOH.

Zondo and his team spent four years collecting evidence and compiling the report covering the alleged capture of various state institutions by the Gupta family and other actors. 

The Zondo commission made more than 350 recommendations, 202 of which were for criminal and other investigations.