FEATURE: South Africa’s grant system has a missing middle problem

Despite South Africa’s constitution enshrining that every citizen possesses the right to access social security – a large demographic has been excluded from the social grant system.

While it may appear inconceivable to subsist on a grant of a mere R350 per month, this harsh reality befalls millions of South Africans, who find themselves teetering precariously below the food poverty line, trapped in a crippling dependency on social grants.

Wits Vuvuzela delved into the lives of five South Africans, confronting the stark reality of surviving on that R350 per month. When questioned about how their families manage on such an allowance, a resounding “We don’t!’ echoed around the room. Donavan Du Pelsen (53) lamented, “R11 a day! It works out to R11 a day!” Another recipient chimed in, “A loaf of bread is R12!”

Social security is firmly embedded in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

Section 27(1)(c) of Act 108 of 1996 stipulates that every South African has the right to access social security, which includes appropriate social assistance for those unable to support themselves and their dependents.

Yet, in a country with a 32.6% unemployment rate, millions of citizens have been excluded from receiving this core socioeconomic right, resulting in 18.3 million South Africans between the ages of 18-59 living below the food poverty line.

The quarterly labour force statistics published by Statistics South Africa for Q2: 2023.
Infographic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Prior to 2020, when the Social Relief of Distress Grant was implemented in response to the covid-19 pandemic, unemployed and able-bodied South Africans between the ages of 18-59 were completely excluded from the social grant system.

The grants which exist in South Africa include the older person’s grant, child support grant, grant in aid, care dependency grant, foster child grant, disability grant and war veterans grant.

According to a study conducted by UNICEF one of the common misconceptions held by policymakers, the media, and stakeholders in general, is that providing social assistance to citizens between the ages of 18-59 will lead to long-term dependency. Those who hold this view think such social assistance will disincentivise active job seekers and promote laziness.

This kind of thinking imagines that social grants should exclusively be allocated to the ‘deserving poor’ while unemployed people of working age are simply not trying hard enough to fight their circumstances.

Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRD)

Implemented to help the economically vulnerable South Africans during the pandemic, the SRD grant provided a monthly stipend of R350 afforded to recipients. In the 2023 budget speech finance minister, Enoch Godongwana stated that the grant would be extended until 31 March 2024. Although it was a much welcomed extension, the implementation has less than smooth.  

On 27 July 2023, the Pay The Grants campaign and the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) sued the government over the unfair exclusion of millions of people from the SRD grant. They also included concerns about “the real terms reduction of the value of the grant.” They stated that while all social grants have increased over time, the SRD grant has remained the same since its implementation in 2020. “Given headline inflation over 6%, the value of the grant has decreased to R294 in real terms. Inflation in the price of food is even higher than headline inflation, having reached over 11%,” read the court documents.

“We would rather have jobs than the R350!”

– Euradiece raiters

Commenting on the exclusion of social grants for people between the ages of 18-59, Pay The Grants chairperson, Elizabeth Raiters, who is also a recipient of the SRD Grant said: “We are not lazy to work. If you [are] over 35 it’s a big struggle to find a job because of your age. So, what happens to us after 35? There’s no grant to support us, we [are] not lazy to work, we are looking for jobs.” Raiters sister, Euradiece Raiters, who is also a recipient of the SRD grant echoed the sentiment, “We would rather have jobs than the R350!”

“There is totally no grant that covers those people, until you get old age (older person’s grant), so for all those years how must you survive?” said Raiters.

Charmaine Martin, another grant recipient and mother, was forced to quit her job when her husband developed a chronic disease which left him dependent on two oxygen tanks and unable to stay home alone. “I have a chronic patient, a daughter that’s 14, no income, we’re waiting for a grant that may never arrive, so in your mind how do you think we’re surviving now at this moment?”

She continued: “Tomorrow, he needs to go to hospital, I don’t have money for him to go to hospital for his appointment.” Martin is receiving a grant of R500 for her daughter, “She’s 14, how much is toiletries? R500 is for toiletries. So where does she eat? Where is she getting clothing from?”

Feeling despondent and out of options Martin said: “I’m at a point now where I want to send my husband to a place where they can help him with his illness, his lungs and everything, and me and my child can go to the shelter and live there… At least at the shelter, we will be able to eat breakfast, lunch and supper.”

Martin is constantly managing her hunger, “I don’t eat [for] like four to five days. I’ll rather buy a grandpa and that will fill me and boost me for the day ahead,” she said.

Valentia Mahlaela (22), an honours in physiology student at Wits University, was a recipient of the SRD grant in 2020 and said she was only able to use the R350 for toiletries. “I used it as my allowance, especially toiletries,” she continues, adding that “I was never granted NSFAS so it helped my folks [parents] a lot.”

Universal Basic Income Grant

Pay The Grants has been campaigning for the government to implement a Universal Basic Income Grant (UBIG) of a minimum of R1500. According to Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice& Dignity Group household affordability index, the average cost of a household food basket is R5124,31.

Commenting on the need for the UBIG to be implemented Pay The Grants said, “Debts are skyrocketing and so is child malnutrition. Rising unemployment is a structural feature of the system, currently 35% overall and 70% for youth without any signs of improvement.”

The organization says that UBIG is a way to restore the basic dignity and survival of most of the country.

  • Universal Basic Income Grant

An infographic outlining the premise of a universal basic income grant. Infographic: Terri-Ann Brouwers

Although deeply embedded in our constitution, it is clear that a significant portion of South Africans have been left behind when it comes to accessing social grants. One would think that the mother in the Eastern Cape who killed herself and her three daughters due to the extreme poverty they endured, would be a cautionary tale to the government to not only increase the grant amount but also make it more accessible to people of working age. However, this has not been the case. The question stands – how many more tragedies must occur before all South Africans’ constitutional rights are met?

FEATURED IMAGE: South Africa is confronted with a striking dependence on social grants, yet millions have been left out of the social security system. Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers


Food first, education after

The national lockdown caused by the covid-19 pandemic meant that the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) was suspended for the first time since its inception in 1994, leaving millions of learners in South Africa without the security of a daily nutritious meal. 

It’s a quiet Wednesday morning at SivelilePrimary School, a state primary school in MeadowlandsSoweto, Gauteng province, South Africa. The silence can be attributed to the classes that are still taking place just before lunch, at 11 am. 

As I enter the school gates, the security guard asks, singakusiza ngani sisi?” I explain to him my business at the school and he offers me a seat outside the small wooden shed located just inside the entrance to the school. He goes to confirm my meeting with the school principal. 

Once the principal has confirmed my visit, head of department (HOD) at Sivelile, Fezeka Tabata, takes me to one of the grade seven classrooms. 

What is a nutritious meal? 

It is 11am and learners are about to eat their nutritious meal of the day.The meal consists of soft porridge for breakfast. Lunch is usually a starch, protein, fruit or vegetable. There are various options for starch: maize meal, rice or samp. 

Proteins include milk, pilchards, soya and sugar beans. Vegetables are normally cabbage, pumpkin and a fruit, depending on what is in season. The lunch the learners receive depends on the day of the week. 

The needs of each province are kept in mind when the decisions on what the learners eat are made. They are then concluded by nutritionists who determine what is nutritious for the learners and what the national food budget is for schools. 

The women who cook at the school, and who are also parents to some of the learners, bring large containers of food from the kitchen into one of the grade seven classrooms as they prepare to dish up for the learners. 

School feeding schemes provide parents and caregivers the opportunity to work and provide for their families. Photo: Khuleko Siwele.

There is no hall at the school, so all the learners are either dished up for in their respective classrooms, in the corridor or in the kitchen. 

On this particular Wednesday, learners are being served rice, canned pilchards and butternut. The rice looks mushy and tastes slightly overcooked, the canned fish is stewed and has a tangy tomatolike taste, and the boiled butternut has a sweet, natural taste. 

The food looks bland at first sight, but it’s true that looks can be deceiving, because for me the food is more flavourful than it appears. I can also tell that these learners are used to the food they are receiving, because of their eagerness to dish up. 

“Why are you guys not excited? This is your favourite meal,” remarks Tabata.  The reason for the students’ lack of excitement seems to be because of the unfamiliar face in their classroom. 

As they are about to pray, one of the learners realises I am about to take a picture and shyly looks away. 

The lockdown meant that some of these kids went without the daily nutritious meal they depend on for survival, and this is what it still means for approximately two million learners in the country who are still not receiving the meal. No school means no food.

Court victory for the NSNP

In July, the High Court in Pretoria ordered the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to reinstate the NSNP, after private organisation Equal Education took the department to court. 

a life-saving programme for the poorestof the poor child

When this order was made, acting deputy judge andpresident of the North Gauteng High CourtSuletPotterill, in her ruling in the case of Equal Education and others v. the department of basic education and others, highlighted that the NSNP was “a life-saving programme for the poorestof the poor child”. 

Learners are not allowed to play outside during break in order to ensure social distancing, but learners make the most out of the little time they get to be outside. Photo: Khuleko Siwele

The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) is a national project run by the department of basic education (DBE). The programme pre-lockdown fed over 9 million learners daily nutritious meal at public schools across the country.Sivelile primary is one of over 20 000 public schools in the country who depend on the school feeding scheme.  

This programme is labelled by Equal Educations researcher Stacey Jacobs as one of the more successful programmes run by the (DBE). 

The schools that are targeted fall under quintile one to three public primary and secondary schools and identified special schools in quintiles four and five.These are the poorest schools in the country. 

The purpose of a free daily meal

Through the implementation of the NSNP, the DBE aims at a sustainable provisioning of quality food to learners who are threatened by poverty and hunger. This food is to enhance the learning capacity of children while at school by providing a daily nutritious meal, and to encourage school attendance. 

“School feeding can improve the consumption of nutritious food by children, if the menu is well designed (by nutrionists) and especially if both breakfast and lunch are delivered at school,” according to the Food Security SA Working Paper Series: #004.

When children are not receiving these meals, they become susceptible to not just illnesses but being exploited, as well as other social injustices faced by children in South Africa that are heightened when learners aren’t in school

From the mouth of a beneficiary 

“Wow, I didn’t know Wits was this big,” says Lawrence Manaka, a matric learner at JB Matabane Secondary School, as he gets out of his Uber at Wits Art Museum (WAM) from Ivory Park, where his school is situated. 

It’s around 3pm on a Thursday afternoon and Manaka is still in his school uniform, a yellow shirt with a blue tie that has the schools logo, and khaki pants. We walk into WAM and I offer him a seat on the black couches located in what used to be a busy cafeteria with students, lecturers and visitors stopping by during the day, but is now filled with silence. 

Manaka, a beneficiary of the programme, wasn’t one of the learners negatively affected by the programme being stopped in higher levels of the lockdown. In as much as he sometimes eats the food from school, it is not a need for him.  

The matric learner gives me a little background information about the area he’s from: I am from Ivory park and it’s a very underprivileged community and there are a lot of learners there who depend solely on the meals that they get from school. 

‘’When some of my schoolmates come to school, it’s not just them coming to learn – it’s also them coming to get the meal,’’ says ManakaSo, when [the country] went into hard lockdown some of the learners faced a huge problem, because now they couldn’t get access to food.”  

Manaka tells me about a friend of his who was hit hard by the school feeding scheme being suspended. “I have a friend who would come to my house, and because I know the situation back home, he would get food from my house or my mum would give him [money]. 

‘’You could tell he really needed the food to get through the day. His situation was extreme to the point where he considered dropping out of school and looking for work rather than being at home hungry. When we went back to school you could tell it became better, because now he can get at least two meals a day,” says Manaka. 

Department backtracks on NSNP

In March, after the country recorded its first cases of covid-19, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, announced that all schools in the country would be closed, which also meant the NSNP would be suspended. More than nine million learners stopped receiving a daily meal at school because of this.  

On May 19, day 54 of the national lockdown,Motshekga, in a media statement,publicly announced that pupils in grades seven and 12 would return to school in June, and that the NSNP would resume for all qualifying pupils at the same time. 

The minister did not live up to her word when schools finally resumed on June 8, with grade seven and grade 12 being the only grades to receive the meal, saying the department needed more time.  

This prompted Equal Education (EE), together with two Limpopo high schools supported by Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27, to take the DBE and provincial education departments to court on June 12.  

The reason for this was the EE believes that the backtracking of the DBE in providing learners with this meal, after promising otherwise, violates learners’ constitutional rights. 

The failure of the DBE and provincial education departments to roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners, or even to produce a plan or programme for doing so, is a regressive measure that violates learners’ rights to basic nutrition, basic education and equality, said Equal Education. 

Even if every child has access to education, they cannot learn well if they are hungry. Photo: Khuleko Siwele

Equal Education wanted the judge to declare that all qualifying learners, regardless of whether or not they have resumed classes, must receive a daily meal. 

“South Africans are at high risk of micronutrient deficiency, specifically Vitamin A and iron. Lack of Vitamin A impairs the immune system, while lack of iron leads to anaemia, fatigue and dizziness. Hunger and micronutrient deficits are known to impact negatively on school attendance, cognitive capacity and immunity to disease,” says Food Security SA. The NSNP aims to avoid these illnessesand during a time of covid-19 this is more important than ever. 

Lehlonolo Magqokidirector of the NSNP for the Gauteng department of education (GDE), in his departmental office at 55 Fox Street, explains that it is not the education department’s responsibility to feed children when they are out of school, and the lockdown facilitated such a time. 

we never offered meals during lockdown level five because the grant that comes from national did not allow us

“We, as the GDE nutrition directorate, offer meals to learners that are at school from Monday to Friday. So, we never offered meals during lockdown level five because the grant that comes from national did not allow us to offer meals to learners. We do not offer learners food while they are at home,” says Magqoki. 

Child support grant not sufficient

The child support grant (CSG) was ‘topped up’ in May, from R440 to R740, during the lockdown. This has proved to be insufficient becausefor millions of households across the country food security was gravely compromised due to the covid-19-necessitated lockdown,” said Equal Education in a statement. 

According to evidence from the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS)- Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM) Wave 1, the StatSA food poverty line per person is approximately R578 a month, and the CSG would not have covered this amount before the topup. 

The survey, focusing mainly on that one-third of households fully dependent on grants and calculating the grant income they would qualify for, found that 87% of children would have been in poverty before the top ups were introduced. 

“The top-ups were indeed much larger than the loss of school meals, but the lockdown took away the certainty of a nutritious meal a day on school days,” NIDS-CRAM wave 1. 

Not all learners at JB Matabane secondary school qualify for the CSG. Lawrence Makana who is also a learner member Equal Education says “not all learners are South African citizens some of these learners are at school using permits, meaning they are foreigners. This means they don’t qualify for the social grant.  

The NIDS-CRAM in its recommendation for school meals, recommends that school feeding be extended to provide meals for the weekend during the pandemic. This provision would allow learners to eat during weekends or public holidays when the feeding scheme does not operate. 

This is not something the department has not considered. “The only challenge [the DBE] has, and it’s been spoken about for [approximately] five years, is that now we are feeding the learners Monday to Friday, and some of these learners are from childheaded families that do not have food on weekends. The department is looking at means of augmenting meals on weekends with the DSD on how we can help, but currently meals end on weekdays,” says Lehlonolo Magqoki, as he eats his breakfast cereal. 

According to a courtordered departmental report, the covid-19 pandemic has prompted the provincial department of Gauteng to change its standard operating procedures in respect of NSNP to prevent and manage the spread of the virus in schools, while providing learners with meals 

FEATURED IMAGE: The suspension of the school nutrition programme in March, left over nine million South African learners deprived of having an opportunity to access food. Photo: Khuleko Siwele


The resilience and torn shoes of workers in Fordsburg

Many people who work in and around Fordsburg come from all parts of the world. It is not strange to hear cleaners, waitresses, cooks, shop assistants etc. saying they come from countries like India, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Malawi. But, a majority of those employed there live just above the poverty line and struggle to survive each day. 

Fadzai Gonda poses outside her home in Mayfair. She has been working in Fordsburg for over a year and earns a wage that she says is not enough to support her family. Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama

There is always a buzz on the streets of Fordsburg, Johannesburg, but the buzz is tricky to decipher for an outsider. The cars drive slowly and the residents walk with a quick urgency.

On the other hand, there are the almost invisible service workers who seem to move in the background of a scene they are not meant to occupy. This means that there are loud and quiet laughs in every corner, some comfortable while others are uneasy.

The area is mainly made up of restaurants, grocery stores, factories, textile and clothing shops that employ many foreign nationals living around Fordsburg, Mayfair and the Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD).

Fadzai Gonda and Sazini Mpala are two examples of those workers. They, like many other workers in Fordsburg, are only a small fraction of a bigger picture concerning worker conditions in Fordsburg, and South Africa. The puzzle in Fordsburg is big and complicated. The history of the place is still intricately intertwined with our present.

One of the busiest streets in Fordsburg is Mint Road. Mannequins with brightly coloured Muslim clothing and restaurant signs showing hot plates of food fill the pavements.

A couple of blocks down from Mint Road there is a bakery and pastry shop. At the front of the store, on either side of the door, there are two gas stoves, one with bubbling oil and the other with assorted desserts and pastries.

Long hours, long days

Mpala, who works in the bakery shop, is from Zimbabwe and has been living in South Africa for over 10 years. Standing behind one of the gas stoves, she casually puts raw samoosa dough into the boiling oil. She is sweating slightly and her torn shoes are testament to her long hours of standing.

“I start work at 8am and finish at 7pm, six days a week. I only rest on Tuesdays,” says Mpala. While most people would cringe at the notion of only resting one day a week, she says she is used to it; after all, she has been doing it for almost nine years.

When Mpala arrives in the morning she cleans and sweeps the store. She then starts frying and preparing the pastries and sweets. From the moment she starts preparing the food from her stall at around 8.30 or 9am, customers start buying and she has to serve them. Mpala says she spends most of her days on her feet, only sitting down for short intervals.

“You know, young kids the age of my children come here and talk in a bad language to us, and we can’t do anything about it,” she says.

Mpala is 42 years old and has four children, aged three, seven, 14 and 18, who all live in Zimbabwe with her mother-in-law. “I feel heartbroken every time I have to leave my children behind, but I have no choice,” says Mpala.

She and her husband rent a room in a three-bedroom flat in Bertrams, Johannesburg, with two other families.

The flat she stays in is one of the half-renovated flats typical of the Johannesburg CBD, painted with bright greens and reds on the outside, but with rusted plumbing and cracked walls covered in paint on the inside.

The building next to hers is covered in soot, it was probably bright and white in its heyday. The streets are much cleaner and quieter than the rest of the CBD though.

A double bed, with a brown headboard, sits on one side of their bedroom, which also functions as a lounge. On the other side sits a chest of drawers with a black 54cm television on top.  Behind the bedroom door is a calendar with the 25th of December circled.

The 25th is circled because she is counting down the days till she can go home to see her children. “I always go home on Christmas. Even though I don’t have much to give my kids, I always try my best to bring them some stuff. You know, clothes and sweet things,” she smiles.

Gonda, who is exactly 10 years younger than Mpala, faces the same dilemma each year. She says she tries to go home every year but sometimes feels embarrassed because she can’t give a lot to her ailing mother and her two daughters.

Fadzai Gonda outside her house while she prepares supper for herself and her boyfriend. Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama

She says life in South Africa has been difficult. “Where I work now, I only get paid R450 per week. We get paid in cash so the money just finishes in your hands, just like that,” says Gonda.

Gonda is loud when she speaks and has a charismatic character. She laughs frequently, even laughing at herself sometimes. She smiles even when she tells the story of the degrading way they get searched every night when they leave work.

“When the shop is closed for the day, we all go to the back, strip to our underwear and get searched by a Muslim lady who works at the store.”

When asked how she feels about this, she says: “I absolutely hate it. It means that they really don’t trust us.”

Gonda lives in Mayfair with her boyfriend and has been in South Africa since 2009. “After 2008 I decided to leave my home country [Zimbabwe],” she says, referring to the violence that erupted in Zimbabwe after the 2008 elections.

The economy of the country fell dismally after that and many Zimbabweans left the country.

Although she has been working in South Africa for close to six years, Gonda will only be getting her official work permit in November. This means she cannot find a permanent job. She says the money she gets paid is so little that she was forced to find a second job, cleaning and washing clothes in a flat in Mayfair.

Work that is uncertain

In Fordsburg, shops of various sizes employ anything from one to 10 employees. While some shop owners choose to employ their siblings and family members, most of the others employ legal and illegal foreign nationals.

Most work around Fordsburg is what labour experts classify as precarious work.

Bandile Ngidi is a master’s student at Wits University and researcher for the National Minimum Wage Research Initiative. He is also one of the directors of Rethink Africa. Ngidi says: “Precarious work is work that is temporary, short term, they don’t have fixed contracts, it’s insecure and they have very poor working conditions.”

Ngidi refers to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) that is meant to, but not always does, protect some of the most vulnerable workers in the formal and informal economy.

“We have a lot of legislation that is meant to protect workers but what is missing is this funny concept called political will,” says Ngidi.

Fordsburg is historically a site of informal labour.

Bandile Ngidi, a minimum wage researcher at Wits University reading in his office. Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama

The Fordsburg and Mayfair areas formed part of the original Langlaagte farm where gold was first discovered in Johannesburg in the mid-19th century.

Fordsburg was named after Lewis P Ford, a private developer who, along with Julius Jeppe Senior, were the first developers to build around the gold-rich piece of land in 1888.

From the onset the area was designated for poor, working-class communities looking for work in the mining area. There was an area specially earmarked for Indians, coloureds, black and white people.

Those who specifically worked in the mines, both black and white men, chose to buy stalls in the Fordsburg area because it was close to the gold mines. The area soon became congested and racially diverse.

With an increasingly multi-cultural population, Fordsburg soon became a vibrant space for commercial shopping enterprises. Mint and Albertina Sisulu roads are still shopping hubs where many buy, work and play.

This legacy, of Fordsburg being a space for the poor and the working class, has continued, but in recent years the power dynamic has changed. Those who were historically employees are now employers.

What the law says

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act stipulates the law for acceptable working conditions for all South Africans in the formal and informal economy.

According to the Act, “an employer must give an employee who works continuously for more than five hours a meal interval of at least one continuous hour”.

It also stipulates: “An employer may not require or permit an employee to work more than 45 hours in any week and … eight hours in any day if the employee works on more than five days in a week.”

Gonda says this never happens at her workplace: “Our lunch break is 30 minutes and we are not allowed to go out. You have to eat inside the shop.”

Mpala shares these sentiments, saying that she has no formal lunch break: “I only eat when there are no customers. If the customers keep coming, I can stand the whole day without taking any breaks.”

‘Mina I can get fired any day, any time’

Ngidi says a huge portion of the South African economy is made up of individuals who work in the informal sector, earning wages that are barely enough to live a healthy lifestyle.

“The wages that many get, even after long strenuous hours of work, are hardly enough for a balanced diet.”

Speaking about the trend of low wages in most informal sectors, Ngidi says: “South Africa’s labour market is such that … the apartheid wage structure is roughly still intact but also we’ve got very high levels of poverty and inequality and a low social security system.”

He says: “What is driving our very low job growth is temporary work, casualisation.”

Fadzai Gonda outside the one-roomed house she shares with her boyfriend, Wiz Yusuf, in Mayfair. Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama

Ngidi says employers can sometimes get away with gross exploitation, especially of workers who are illegal or uneducated.

Within the labour sector, a broader discussion, spearheaded by trade unions, about a standard minimum wage has been going on for a number of years. Tied to these discussions are questions of what it means to live above the poverty line and how the huge inequality gap in South Africa can be combated using a minimum wage.

Ngidi cites some international countries as examples that can be used to chart a way forward for these discussions. He mentions countries like Germany, Australia, France and Brazil that have recently implemented a minimum wage system.

South Africa is one of 186 countries that are part of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which is a United Nations (UN) agency meant to combat worker exploitation and create a unified working environment the world over.

“Out of all the countries in the ILO, almost 90% of them have a minimum wage and South Africa is not one of those countries,” Ngidi says.

Ngidi says there are other elements and factors that are being considered in trying to figure out what the national minimum wage will be. These include the number of dependants an individual has.

“There is no answer to that question yet but … the local food poverty line is calculated by looking at how much it costs to buy a local diet that gives you 2200 calories.”

A diet of 2200 calories is estimated as enough energy and nutrition to sustain an adult per day.

Ngidi also says that one of the reasons exploitation is rampant in many informal industries is because workers are unable to organise themselves due to extremely long working hours that make it physically impossible for them to meet as a collective.

When asked whether she has ever considered joining a trade union or aligning herself with an organisation that protects worker rights, Mpala exclaims loudly in Ndebele, her home language: “Yhuuuuuuuuuu, do you want me to lose my job?

“If lababantu [these people] could see me talking to you now I would get fired. Mina, I can get fired any day, any time and nothing can happen,” Mpala says.

And that is the story of many workers in Fordsburg, and in South Africa. They walk on tiptoes hoping not to offend their only source of income.

Like Mpala’s worn-out shoes, they have no option but to carry on just another day.

FEATURED IMAGE: Fadzai Gonda poses outside her home in Mayfair. She has been working in Fordsburg for over a year and earns a wage that she says is not enough to support her family. Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama


National minimum wage not enough to reduce inequality and poverty

WARMING UP: Speakers, Ayabonga Cawe and Jane Barrett share a quick chat about youth unemployment ahead of their discussion at the dialogue held at the Origins Centre on Tuesday, July 22. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

WARMING UP: Speakers Ayabonga Cawe and Jane Barrett share a quick chat about youth unemployment ahead of their discussion at the dialogue held at the Origins Centre on Tuesday, July 22. Photo: Lameez Omarjee


A national minimum wage will not make a difference in inequality and poverty in South Africa, according to Ayabonga Cawe. Cawe was speaking at a policy dialogue hosted by Young Economists for Africa last night at the Wits  Origins Centre which focused on the need for a national minimum wage policy.

A “national minimum wage should be accompanied with other social protection measures,” explained the Rethink Africa chairperson. These include a social wage subsidised by government to provide free housing, free health care and free education. These measures would then affect savings, investments and consumption.

Asset transfers are another option through the restoration of the ownership of land, the economy and access to markets in the economy for the previously disadvantaged.

“People can’t build (their) lives without assets,” Cawe said.

“People are employed but they are still caught in a poverty trap”

He also said that the national minimum wage will never be effective unless backlogs in development are dealt with and productivity is increased. He stressed that people need an incentive, possibly even a stake in profits, to be productive.

Despite arguments that a national minimum wage would give the country a bad image and may deter investments, Cawe defended the proposal. “People are employed but they are still caught in a poverty trap”. A national minimum wage will allow for social reproduction he said.

Jane Barrett, policy research officer at the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union also supported the proposed national mimumum wage and told Wits Vuvuzela, it is necessary “to bring simplicity and regularity to the regulation of wages at the bottom.”

According to Barrett, a national minimum wage is more effective in reducing inequality, than reducing the high pay for executives.

Taku Fundira, senior researcher at Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, suggested that “social protection policies should be strengthened.”

He told Wits Vuvuzela that South Africans should consider a basic income grant as an option.

In South Africa there is an “unemployed generation aged between 18 and 59” that will never receive a certain or reasonable income until the age of retirement, when they would qualify for a pension grant. He explained that a minimum wage could absorb unemployment.

Fundira also encouraged good infrastructure, a powerful labour force and a flawless trade flow to attract investment. “This is a redistribution policy, we take away from business to empower lower income earners. The policy should be clear and transparent and enforceable.”


OPINION: Youth Day – a lost understanding but not a lost opportunity

The length of the pause a South African teenager took on television today was a little more than just awkward. She was asked, in an interview, about the significance of June 16th.

The pause led to nothing but a confession that said she did not know the significance of the day, except to say that “on this day we wear our school uniform and don’t go to school”.

That pause though was more than enough time for me to formulate my dramatic shock at the ignorance of young South Africans who now understand very little of the patriotism and hope for a bright future which was expressed by the youth of 1976.

I guess that’s it, we have reached an era where the sacrifices made by the young people that came before us have become insignificant, merely a small slice of the great history that makes up this young democracy.

This young girl was indeed just one of the millions of young people in South Africa who are celebrating the lives they’re afforded today, non the wiser of the blood which was shed so that we could walk into an elevator used by white people also, share the same public toilet seat as our white fellow citizens and also, but most importantly benefit equally from an education system which was previously reserved for those South Africans who were not black.

I cannot help but wonder about the relevance of these all these celebrations which we’re a part of today in commemoration of the anti-apartheid struggle given the lack of understanding of the occasion particularly among the youth of today.

The baton was passed onto us a long time ago and even though we have run a long way, we have a really long way to go.

I cannot fully exclude myself as I doubt that I, or you as the reader, will ever fully understand the plight of the people that lived during the apartheid regime and the struggles they willingly pursued so that I may be able to write my thoughts to share and that you may be able to read them, freely.

The students who protested in 1976 did so with the prospect of a quality education and essentially a better life; many of them lost their lives and in doing so lost out on the opportunity to see the fruits of their labour.

They did however leave a platform on which we can appreciate their work in the name of freedom as well as advance it by utilising it to the best of our ability the opportunities that have been given to us.

But have we pioneered on to ensure that we can curb our vulnerability to the dirty remnants of discrimination, unemployment and inequality that are ever so difficult to make clean. I would hate to think that the courage expressed by the youth that came before us was in vain.

I figure that if we don’t fully understand the efforts of those that participated in the June 1976 protests we should at least try our level best to grab all the opportunities that have been laid out for us to seize and make the best of.

The baton was passed onto us a long time ago and even though we have run a long way, we have a really long way to go.

Aside from the annual celebrations we are to do the best that we can to make sure that we live, and we live well, for those who made the decision to afford us this opportunity.

We must rise above our circumstances, as the youth of 1976 did, to make the best of our lives in this democracy.

VIDEO: The Scavenger Economy: A story of two young men on the streets of Johannesburg

Lebo Radebe and Sibusiso Chiba are two of the many homeless people prowling the city of Johannesburg.

They are scavengers for food, for drugs, for shelter on the bitterly cold pavements, for anything that can make their lives a little better.

Poverty and hunger have brought these two young men together.

They are among the more than 24 million people who go hungry in South Africa.  With unemployment and poverty levels rising, the number of people who are food secure could increase. While other people scavenge for food in the waste dumps and dustbins, Sbusiso and Lebo collect and sell scrap metal.

Although they support each other and look out for one another, they are not always in agreement about their value system as they eke out a life on the street.

This video is a production of the 2014 Wits Journalism short course in television.