On 23 February, the day when the Finance Minister delivered the national Budget Speech in Parliament, activists under the umbrella of the Cry of the Xcluded took to the streets to make their budget demands known and reject the government’s austerity budget.
“How can this government be so callous as to propose a budget that slashes spending for education, health and social welfare and for public sector workers? While you do this, we are living in a disaster. 13 million workers are suffering unemployment, not for a few weeks but years. Bread, transport and electricity prices have brought millions of us to the brink,” says Lindi Mkhumbane from the Cry of the Xcluded.
While the Finance Minister claimed that the budget was not an austerity budget,
Dominic Brown from the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) explains that, “AIDC joins our allies in the social and labour movement in rejecting this budget… The cut in spending to the Main Budget (leaving aside debt service costs which are rising) will be R85.4 billion in real terms compared to the 2022 budget. One can only understand this budget as a massive attack on poor and working class people.”
“In terms of the social relief of distress grant, the budget only makes provision for 8.5 million beneficiaries, effectively excluding at least two million people from much needed support. Moreover, the R350 SRD is now worth just R277 in 2023 compared to 2020, R73 less than when it was first introduced,” adds Brown.
In Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, activists marched to the Uitenhage Town Hall. “In the past we used to march to Parliament. But this year we decided to rather be at the local level where the real issues and challenges of our people are, so we rather go to the municipality’s offices. Local Government is in a terrible mess,” says Mziwoxolo Sume of the Makukhanye Rural Movement.
In Cape Town, the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers union (CSAAWU) joined other activists and trade unionists who had gathered at Keizersgracht Street. “CSAAWU is of the view that the ongoing implementation of the austerity budget proposed by the government is a clear attack on the rural poor who are already suffering as they are on the receiving end in terms of service delivery and economic exclusion,” says CSAAWU Deputy General Secretary, Deneco Dube.
CSAAWU says that these budget cuts for social services are already being felt by farm workers and the rural poor. “Loadshedding is a pandemic on its own and it is felt by farm workers who are being threatened with retrenchments and wage cuts. Loadshedding is a direct consequence of the deaths of many poor families living in shacks who are forced to use firewood to prepare food and candles for lights.”
“In Botshabelo, we marched to the Free State Provincial Government offices, together with our sister organisations. The trade union, South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), joined the march to support us and we were joined by Free State Provincial Secretary of SAFTU, Comrade Felicity Lekhethe. Members of the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW) were also present,” says Mooketsi Diba from the Botshabelo Unemployed Movement. But unfortunately, there was no government official to receive the activists Memorandum of Demands . “Initially they gave us the notice that the Head Of Department of the Free State Treasury will be the one who is going to accept our demands. But when we showed up, there was no staff, only security guards at the provincial Treasury offices. That was the saddest part from our side,” adds Diba.
“The budget does not talk directly to the masses of the poor and it does not meet the needs of our people. The collapse of health, policing, transport and education will remain the same under this budget. Even this R350 SRD grant is an insult, it’s almost two years with the same amount. It should have been increased to R1 500 as a Basic Income Grant,” says Sume. At the Uitenhage Town Hall, activists handed over the Assembly of the Unemployed’s Memorandum of Demands to the Executive Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Retief Odendaal.