STATE OF DISASTER: Distress but no social relief – Limpopo's poor languish in misery after SRD grant cut off – Daily Maverick

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About 40km from the Limpopo town of Lephalale (formerly Ellisras) lies the rural village of Marikana, and 23km away is Marapong village, where residents complained that they have not received their R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grants, despite having registered because of their desperate living conditions.
This comes after civil society organisations revealed that almost six million people had been excluded from the SRD grant
The grant was introduced in April 2020, under national state of disaster regulations, to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns. In February 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa said it would be extended to the end of March 2023.
However, the Black Sash and the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) revealed last month that some SRD grants had not been paid since February. The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) attributes this to the payment system being switched from the Post Office to banks, and to new eligibility criteria.
Most people in Marikana and Marapong live in informal housing made of zinc with sparse if any furnishings. Many say the SRD grant would help with food, burial society instalments and finding employment. All those interviewed had not been able to make inquiries at Sassa offices because they did not have R74 to get to and from town.
Mother of six Sylvia Sebina (46) is a community activist whose last job was in 2013, when she worked in the hospitality industry. Since then, her income has been child grants for her four youngest children. She used savings from the R350 SRD grant to run a spaza shop, which did well until she stopped receiving the grant in April 2022. “At first it said ‘pending’. then it said declined and it doesn’t say the reason,” she said.
Crime had increased since the grants stopped, and power cable theft was a particular concern.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “The Social Relief of Distress grant – where it began and why the state is still dithering on payments
“In Marapong, teenage girls are prostituting themselves. There are no employment opportunities close by, so you have to make a plan,” said Sebina. “A lot of people have become indebted to loan sharks.”
Ruth Moatshi (46) and her husband are unemployed and the R350 grant had helped them to start a business selling chickens in the community, at R75 each.
“It also was helping us buy water because sometimes we can stay for up to four weeks without water supply, which means we have to buy water from the shops.”
Moatshi says that she left school in Grade 5 to look after her sick parents and grew up under the care of social workers. She said that she last worked in 2018, as a cook on contract for a nutrition programme at a nearby school. She has not been able to find work since then.
Koos Sepoloane (59) worked as a farm labourer from 1987 until he was unceremoniously dismissed without explanation in 2021. When he tried to claim Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) money, he was told he was not on the system – even though UIF payments were deducted from his pay. There are times when he goes without food for three or four days and relies on neighbours to share food when they can. “I have been declined for the R350 but have appealed and am still waiting for the result.”
He said he even had to send his youngest children, six and eight, to live with their aunt so they could be looked after better. 
“I have been declined for the R350 but have appealed and am still waiting for the result. The grant would really help me because I am suffering now. This is my youngest child, look at his broken school shoes. I cannot even afford to get him new ones, he must go to school like this,” said Sepoloane.
A 34-year-old mother of three said she had “left school in Grade 8 because my parents were too poor”. 
“I have been getting the R350 since it started but I stopped getting it in April when it said ‘pending’ and then declined.” The reason given had been that she had another source of income, but she said the only other money she receives are child grants.
Matlou Rasibitja (42) says although she has tried to look for work, she has never had formal employment and had been surviving on the child grants she was receiving for her three children, two of whom no longer receive the grant because they are over 18. She now receives one grant for her 14-year-old child. She had been receiving the R350 grant but it stopped in February 2022. Her two children, 23 and 21, had tried to register for the grant but were declined. 
Asked by Maverick Citizen whether she had tried to find out from Sassa why they had been declined, Rasibitja responded: “The Sassa offices are in Ellisras and taking a taxi there costs R37 one way and I don’t have money.”
Lizer Ntlakwane (27) said: “The last time I had a job was in 2019 in Mamelodi, Pretoria where I was a cleaner at a shop.” 
Ntlakwane, who has a four-month-old child, occasionally gets piece jobs, such as doing people’s laundry and cleaning their houses for about R100 a job. 
“I now live with my sister and her child in her shack. The father of my child used to send me R1,000 for the child, but he lost his job and can no longer send money. 
Ntlakawane said that when she tried to register for the SRD grant it was declined because it said she had another source of income.
Marapong (place of bones) is built around Medupi and Matimba power stations, where  many people in the community have worked on contract.
Evans Mathabatha (41) told Maverick Citizen that he came from Sekhukhune in 2009 to work at Medupi as a builder until his contract ended in 2014. He then did piece jobs like welding and waste management until he got a contract with Medupi again from 2017 to 2018. He had been receiving the SRD grant since 2020. When he tried to re-register in 2022, he was turned down. He was told he had a source of income.
“The only money I get sometimes is from family who try to help, but it’s not even R500.” The R350 bought food and helped with internet café costs, to type and email his CV, and for transport to job interviews.
Freddy Ndou (54) hasn’t worked since 2014 when he was a mechanic and driver at a construction equipment hire company. He lives with the youngest of his four children, his grandchildren and his wife who also was unemployed until she started work on contract for a nutrition programme at a nearby school in April 2022.
“I registered in 2021 and this year. It was successful but I have never got the money. I am not employed. I get a piece job at the car wash, R30 for every car I wash but… there aren’t always cars to wash.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Hunger looms as millions of potential Covid grant recipients still struggling to be approved
Joseph Serumula (33) told Maverick Citizen: “I used to be an electrician assistant until my contract ended in 2016.” He had registered for the SRD grant in December and again in April 2022, but had never received payment. He also said that he has been unable to access his UIF and pension that he had been paying when he was working as an electrician assistant. The UIF had told him that he was not registered on its database. 
“Sassa is also not helping with the R350, so I don’t know where else I can get help,” said a dejected Serumula.
From 2010 to 2021, Samuel Ngoepe (49) worked as a scaffolder at the Medupi power station until his contract ended. He then tried to register for the SRD grant in December and it has been pending since then. Now, Ngoepe says, he is helped by his siblings who live nearby as well, as well as his 22-year-old child, to buy food and other essentials to survive. “Not being able to receive the SRD grant pains me because things are now difficult”
Mother-of-two Francina Dube (26) said: “Most people in Marapong do not work and many of us have been declined or received messages saying ‘pending’.
“The R350 was helping me with food, I am now also behind on my burial society payments because I registered and was receiving the R350 in 2020 but it stopped in April.”
She says she now survives on the money that her father is sometimes able to send her as she is unemployed.
Thabo Alpheus Kekae (37) is on chronic medication for back pain after being shot in 2018, and has been surviving on plumbing and general worker piece jobs. “I registered for the R350 in 2020 but never got a payment. When I followed up with Sassa they said I’m not on their system.”
Responding to questions from Maverick Citizen in a previous article, Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi comments:
“The main reason for the decline of applications are:
On 7 July, after the Black Sash and IEJ announced that they would be pursuing legal action against the government for the non-payment of SRD grants which left millions of people facing hunger – and also challenged that the R350 which is below the food poverty line of R624 is too low – Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu put out a call for public comment to raise the amount from R350 to R624, although her department indicated that it would oppose the legal action.
The Black Sash and IEJ made a joint submission on the call for comment gazetted by the minister to increase the SRD grant to R624 where, amongst other recommendations, they have called for the means test to be increased to R1335. DM/MC
“Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]
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