subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

All societies have political narratives that don’t fit reality. Elite groups, in particular, often suffer these sorts of delusions. Fuddy-duddy aristocrats and the entire Tory party, for example, seem to believe that post-empire Brexit-inflicted Great Britain actually has any geopolitical weight left. An irrational position, given that the UK’s military is run out of a small office in the Pentagon’s basement.

Some erstwhile intelligent and genuinely well-meaning commentators, economists and politicians are sorely misguided about SA’s most important political reality. In discussions, articles and lengthy academic reports crunching grim numbers, a few strange ideas float around.

One, the Social Relief of Distress grant (SRD) can be withdrawn in the future. Two, grants are unaffordable in the long run. Three, people somehow don’t vote in their perceived best interest.

The SRD is permanent because, if discontinued, SA will burn. No hyperbole here, it really is that simple. Almost 8-million people, about 13% of the total population, depend on the R350 for food. Given the July 2021 riots and humanity’s long history of uprisings based upon bread or the lack thereof, widespread violent protests would likely engulf the country.

The cost would be immense, far exceeding the R36bn spent on the SRD. In comparison, the July riots cost at least R50bn. And it is not just the price tag. The political instability would be considerable. Politicians with a revolutionary bent and no real attachment to democracy would likely take a stab at riding to power on the back of the chaos. Julius Malema comes to mind.

With the SRD, there’s one viable discussion: how best to allocate the budget and in line with inflation.

Moreover, debates about whether we should have a basic income grant are moot. We already have one, albeit not universal, in the SRD.

Similarly, the entire social grant system is immutable and will continue to cost more as the rand amount of individual grants rises due to inflation. Our social welfare system has eradicated extreme poverty and lowered childhood mortality. It is the glue that holds SA together. Without this bond, society falls apart.

Once again, the question regarding social grants is how to arrange the budget with an eye on the spiralling cost of food.

SA has declined terribly since the beginning of the state capture period. The ANC has run down critical infrastructure, corrupted itself and the state.

National democratic revolution has meant mismanaging the economy to such an extent that both capitalists and Marxists are shocked. The ruling party has stubbornly refused to raise educational standards and is providing a foreign policy masterclass on how to antagonise friends and lose influence.

So, why do people continually vote for the ANC? Are the masses suffering from wide-scale false consciousness?

Voters aren’t stupid. They vote for what they think is best for them. Nearly half of the country relies on a social grant, without which their lives would be absolute misery. The maintenance and expansion of the social grant system is the vital interest of the many.

Condition for power

We trust the ANC to both continue and increase the value of grants. They created the system and know that maintaining it is a necessary condition for power. We don’t trust the ANC on lights, water and roads.

Enter the DA and its social development policy, released in June 2023. An underwhelming document seemingly designed to lose an election. Like how Marx and Fanon weave through EFF manifestos, American economic liberalism underpins DA policies. The DA believes that the free market allocates public goods and services more efficiently than the state.

In other words, socialism is the devil’s curse.

The DA’s signature policy is to peg the child support grant to the official poverty line, at R624. Which sounds like, if elected, Steenhuisen et al would carry on with the grants scheme in its present form.

Yet, there is cause for doubt, a real electoral trust issue starting with the notion of school vouchers. The DA's education policy argues that we need a “market of education”. The basic notion is that people are issued government vouchers that can then be spent on fees at private or high-performing government schools, in essence making schools compete with each other.

The system is entirely unworkable in our context, if it works anywhere. Old Mutual estimates that private education costs on average between R71,496 and R105,084 a year. Huge spending cuts in education and other social services would be required. Good government schools are already swamped and many rural villages have a single school.

And the DA wants to bring liberalisation of social services into the grant system. The social development policy states that a basic income grant (BIG) could be financed through “the removal of free services, such as electricity, water, housing and health services and replacing them with a cash transfer to be spent by the individual on the services they require”.

It gets worse. The policy document also states “it is important to rethink how social welfare is provided”.

Heavens above. Team blue is completely deluded, somehow thinking that even mentioning abolishing free services and restructuring the welfare system is anything but electoral suicide.

Can you trust the DA to increase the child support grant when it has these kinds of fantasies? You can’t.

Dominant player

Our national political future is a coalition, either this election or the next, and to win the DA must be the dominant player. So how? Represent the people’s interests. A universal BIG could be the DA’s path to victory.

Abandon vouchers, keep free services and don’t muck around with the grant system. Go large on a universal BIG. Say to the electorate that there will be no debate, we will implement this within a year because we are not corrupt and can run an economy. Tell us how you will afford it. Make a true promise. Make us believe.

For the DA, a universal BIG would be a radical step. A genuine endorsement of that dirtiest of ideas, limited socialism based upon the inherent moral worth of a human being. Only then can we trust the party’s commitment to grants, to keeping the country together.

Being not-ANC isn’t enough. Being an actual representative of the demos is. And unless the DA becomes such, the long night to oblivion awaits.

• Dr Tristen Taylor is a freelance journalist and photographer. He is also a Research Fellow in Environmental Ethics, Stellenbosch University. 

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.