Covid-19 Roundup | Grants and evictions

Battling to access grants and funding, high TB and HIV infections, illegal evictions and a shortage of protective equipment are among the daily struggles now facing the impoverished.

Special Covid-19 Grant

Fewer than one in every four of the 13 million people who have applied for the Department of Social Security’s Special Covid-19 Grant have been approved. Only 3.1 million applications were approved after being processed to ensure that nobody was receiving other forms of government assistance.

South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) chief officer Busisiwe Memela-Khambula told a 4 June 2020 meeting of the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Social Development that a budget of R3.5 billion has been set aside for the grant. Paying all of the approved applications for the R350 grant for six months, however, will cost the department over R6 billion.

SASSA had paid 116 867 grant recipients at the end of May. Memela-Khambula did not clarify how many recipients have been paid to date. Some grants will be processed through bank services such as e-wallets. This payment infrastructure will only be operational after 15 June.

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HIV, TB and Covid-19

On 9 June, the Western Cape’s health department released new findings that looked at Covid-19 outcomes for people with HIV and tuberculosis (TB). The department reviewed data from the province’s public sector, which revealed that those with HIV have a 2.75 times increased risk of dying of Covid-19, while those with active TB have an increased risk of 2.58 times. Those who have had TB in the past have a 1.41 times risk of dying from the novel coronavirus. 

The data also showed there is not any difference in the increased risk of death between HIV patients who are virally suppressed and those who aren’t. “This is not what we expected, because we thought that if there was any increased risk of death associated with HIV that it would be driven by people not being on treatment and having poor immune function,” said public health medicine specialist Mary-Ann Davies, who suggested a study to analyse the data on these two types of HIV patients to give further clarity.

The data showed the overwhelming majority of deaths in the Western Cape were from diabetes, followed by high blood pressure. 

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Two more years

Tertiary education students are asking for changes to be made in the N+2 rule, which gives students two extra years to complete their degrees after which NSFAS will stop funding. NSFAS recipients say the disruption posed by the Covid-19 pandemic has interrupted their studies and will mean many will take longer than two extra years to finish. 

But, during a media briefing on 9 June, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande declined the request: “We are not going to change the stipulated number of years within which NSFAS beneficiaries are expected to finish their studies, both in terms of the pre- and post-2018 NSFAS requirements.”

Nzimande added that the application of the rule has become more efficient in 2020. It was found that a significant number of students had already exceeded the N+2 rule.

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Continued evictions

Violent evictions of shack dwellers are ongoing and must be stopped immediately, says Church Land Programme director Graham Philpott.

Philpott says during the course of the past two months, over 900 shacks have been illegally demolished in the Durban area.

A new, independently researched report from the Church Land Programme shows how shack settlements in eThekwini have been targeted in a sustained campaign during the Covid-19 crisis. 

City of Cape Town against human rights

Activists have accused the City of Cape Town of engaging in a number of court proceedings against marginalised people during the lockdown. On 10 June, the City brought an application to the high court to seek an interdict against the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) accessing the Strandfontein Emergency Shelter. The shelter was meant to house the homeless during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Legal Resources Centre, representing SAHRC, told the court that the interdict would have a devastating effect on the constitutional and statutory mandate of the SAHRC. The Women’s Legal Centre together with the Centre for Applied Legal Studies were admitted as friends of the court. They told the court that the application by the City against a Chapter Nine institution was nothing short of a violation of the Constitution. The City, they argued, wanted to circumvent accountability in terms of its obligations to safeguard human rights, by silencing the work of human rights monitors.

The City persisted in its application for costs against the respondents, mainly human rights organisations. This was criticised heavily by the Legal Resources Centre as an abuse of court processes to discourage human rights groups from fighting for justice.

Judgment was reserved.

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Danger pay

In the Eastern Cape, the Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Demawusa) has condemned delays by municipal bosses in providing danger allowances to workers who are exposed to Covid-19. “We want to get a comprehensive Covid-19 plan for workers from the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality. This municipality is not yet ready to receive more workers as it has failed to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to the current group of workers,” said provincial coordinator Siphiwo Ndunyana, speaking at a march by the union on 11 June at the Port Elizabeth City Hall. 

If workers were forced to expose themselves to the coronavirus, they should be compensated, the union said. “The employer acknowledged that as a genuine demand but it is more than a month now since we have placed the demand and nothing has been placed on the table…. Workers are demanding to receive their danger allowance, not tomorrow, but as of yesterday,” said Ndunyana at the march.

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