Expressing disdain for state's help for the poor mutes our humanity

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
A hard life of poverty, as seen at Marathon squatter camp in Germiston, does not seem to touch some of our compatriots who criticise the government for finding ways to help the poor survive. / Sebabatso Mosamo
A hard life of poverty, as seen at Marathon squatter camp in Germiston, does not seem to touch some of our compatriots who criticise the government for finding ways to help the poor survive. / Sebabatso Mosamo

The Covid-19 pandemic has most of us looking closely at our government, looking through its interventions with a fine-tooth comb, ensuring that no sector of society gets neglected or isn't wholly protected.

With the great strides the government has made in its response to the pandemic, our somewhat lack of ubuntu has been exposed.

The president announced that there will be a R300 increase in May for the child support grant, followed by an increase of R500 per caregiver for a few months thereafter.

All other social grants will increase by R250 for six months. There will also be a special Covid-19 grant of R350 per month for those who do not currently receive any other grants and are not eligible for Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) payouts.

There are those who think this amount is not enough. There are also those who have expressed a level of annoyance at these relief efforts by our government.

I saw comments such as "people are getting more money from my tax contribution for making kids, whilst I have to go to work for money". There were many other comments made on different platforms. Essentially, they didn't agree with these government top-ups, mostly because they feel they are undeserving. I thought to myself, "the financially marginalised just can't get a break".

These are comments largely from the middle and upper classes of our society.

These comments didn't sit well with me because they remind me of those who call those who can't afford lazy. In reality, poor people are the ones leaving their homes at 4am, spending long hours in trains and buses so that they can get to work on time, for underpayment, contempt and exploitation.

Many of us did not wake up with the resources we have. Our parents toiled to make ends meet and to give us the gift of education. We got some form of help to escape the shackles of poverty, not because of our own doing but because we are carried by the backs of men and women working in poorly paying, exploitative, precarious jobs.

We slightly move up in the food chain; acquire an education, get a job and we suddenly forget that it was once us. How did we become so detached?

The increases in the grants is not for luxury. This is money that is going to the most indigent and vulnerable of our people. These are people who are already overly burdened by unemployment, hunger and poor housing in their daily lives. And if they do work, they work in precarious and insecure jobs.

Imagine how much more their lives are altered in this pandemic. It is cold-hearted to think they shouldn't be getting some relief from a life of perpetual suffering, even if it isn't substantial relief.

While many sectors of our society fight for the state to do more for the indigent, such as the implementation of the much spoken about Youth Unemployment Grant for example, there will be those who draw up petitions against this progressive move because people shouldn't be "paid" for being unemployed?

It is as if we quickly forgot just how dire the circumstances are for many South Africans.

We are not referred to as one of the most unequal nations in the world for nothing. This means our state will have to take on and cushion a lot of people to offset their suffering. As some move up in the food chain, many more are left behind. And it is for this reason we need to be much more empathetic and supportive of government's efforts in helping the indigent. We should not be the stumbling block.

On a much more enthusiastic note, as I was writing this piece on Saturday evening, I reflected on the Freedom Day which passed on Monday.

I was reflecting on the fact that it was going to be the first time in many years for me to spend the day beaming with pride.

Not solely because on this day in 1994 I voted to usher in the democratic dispensation, but also because of pride in how my government had been handling this pandemic. There are still inefficiencies, but it feels good seeing our government do what it is meant to do.

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