The benefit of the grant

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Gabi Khumalo

After spending almost 20 years as a domestic worker, Nompumelelo Mchunu* from Tembisa was looking forward to retiring at the age of 60.

She would get to take it easy, knowing that her four children would have long completed school and they’d be supporting themselves.

Little did she know that at the age of 75, she would still be playing the role of a parent -- only this time, she is looking after her six grandchildren, who lost their parents due to HIV related illnesses. Her only surviving son, aged 46, is also unemployed.

SAnews caught up with Mchunu while she was buying basic groceries in one of the local shops in Tembisa, with her 20-year-old granddaughter in tow. The young woman comes in handy, as she checks the list of items needed.

Mchunu says the picture would be much different were it not for government’s grant for older persons and the child support grant she receives every month. This way, she is able to take care of her family, making sure that the younger children go to school.

“The money [grant] will never be enough due to the high cost of living, but I’m so grateful to our government with the little we get.

“My kids left me with nothing to support their children, but thanks to these grants, we are surviving,” Mchunu says while comparing prices on various maize meal packets.

Through both the older persons and child support grants, her eldest granddaughter managed to complete Grade 12. She is now trying to get a bursary so she can continue with her tertiary education.

It’s not easy raising six children at her age but Mchunu’s commitment to do so is evident as her hands rest determinedly on her hips while she speaks about the importance of budgeting.

“My goal is to see them get an education and become financially independent, instead of relying on government to support them.”

She looks pensive for a moment before going down memory lane. “Do you still remember years ago when old people used to get half of what we are currently receiving and it was not on a monthly basis?”

She pauses. “I don’t think you do. You were still young at the time,” she continues without expecting a response.

“I can only imagine how people in the same situation like me survived then. Imali yeqolo yayingakakhushwa [there was no child support grant] and that’s why we must be thankful for the changes we’ve seen since 1994. I wouldn’t have survived without government’s assistance.”

As she takes a moment to peruse her shopping list to make sure she has everything her family needs, her cell phone rings. A smile lights up her face. “It’s my grandson,” she says.

“You see, he’s reminding me to buy chips and a cake because they know the money is in today,” she laughs out loud.

Although Mchunu acknowledges that there are some areas where government needs to improve on, she urges people not to forget where they come from.

“So much has happened to change people’s lives. Slowly but surely, things will be perfect. We need to be patient.”

Securing social stability

Social grants remain the cornerstone of government’s key programmes to fight poverty afflicting children, people with disabilities and older persons.

Since 1994, the social grants system has expanded from 2.7 million beneficiaries to over 15 million.

Recent independent research results show that the provision of social protection in the form of social grants has sustained many vulnerable households, particularly against the global financial crisis that threatens to reverse development gains in many developing countries across the globe.

This is commendable progress in attaining Goal 1 of the Millennium Development Goals -- halving poverty by 2015.

Among government’s achievements post 1994 is the extension of social grants, where the child support grant was added to support parents and guardians in need.

When it started, only children below the age of seven qualified for such a grant. This was expanded to children below the age of 14 and to date, qualifying parents with children below the age of 18 are now benefiting from the grant.

Another noted development in social grants since 1994 includes lowering the qualifying age for men to receive the older persons grant, from 65 to 60 years.

As from 1 October 2013, government has increased the monetary value of social grants. These include the older persons grant for senior citizens aged 60 to 74, the disability grant and care dependency grant, which increased from R1 260 to R1 270.  

The older persons grant for ages 75 and older, and the war veterans grant increased from R1 280 to R1 290.

Other grants, which also increased from October, include the child support grant and the grant-in-aid, both from R290 to R300.

The foster child grant is currently R800.

Multiplying the benefits

During the recent International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Department of Social Development and its entities -- the South African Social Security Agency and the National Development Agency -- launched the Cooperative Shop Project.

The initiative is aimed at combating poverty by linking social grant beneficiaries (particularly the care givers of children receiving child support grants) and other vulnerable groups to meaningful socio-economic opportunities.

The department and its entities will identify co-operatives that need support, with the intention to develop the skills of the co-operative members to ensure they are able to produce goods of quality. 

Social Development Minister Bathabile said the project was in line with the developmental agenda of government and could be seen as an addition to the grants that are provided. 

“The primary intention is not to take people out of the grant system but to provide opportunities for grant beneficiaries to supplement their income. 

“However, if the project is a success, the members of the cooperatives may well earn enough to support themselves and their families and thus, move out of the social security system,” Dlamini said. –

*Name changed to protect grandchildren's identity