Budget 2020: Time to clean house

Photo credit: Vincent Lali, GroundUp

Another year, another budget speech, bail-outs left right and center causing spending cuts in government programmes and services, proposals to slash the public wage bill and minimal increases in social grants.  Yet, again, the budget leaves us with more questions than answers. How will this affect the poor? Who are the public servants whose salaries and wages are on the chopping block?  Who stands to lose the most?

In a country inundated with high levels of poverty, crime and violence, it is womxn and children that usually end up carrying the burden of an inefficient system. The country’s poor quality education and years of lack of access to tertiary education denies our children greater opportunities. We can see in the budget that education allocations are decreasing in real terms. Money for fixing school infrastructure was cut. Youth unemployment is a huge problem, but government is investing R5.2 billion less over the next three years on fixing the schools in which young people must learn. We don’t think the government is investing in the right things. We see that R14.6 billion has been taken away from providing housing. R13.2 billion has been taken away from transport over the next three years, while our daily commute is getting tougher all the time.

At least one issue is getting some attention. President Ramaphosa has, over the last year, made a significant pledge to allocate budget to the fight to address gender-based violence (GBV). And we did at least see some monetary shifts to respond to this crisis.

There is R133 million that was reprioritized over the next three years for hiring of social workers in GBV and substance abuse high-risk areas, for example. The budget also reprioritizes R714 million over the next three years from the National Department of Social Development’s budget to its provincial counterparts for programmes to prevent HIV and AIDs infections, substance abuse and GBV and femicide. However, these allocations are not new additions but rather reprioritization of existing funds which raises questions such as where is this money being reprioritized from?

At least there is some additional money to support Non-profit organisations (NPO) in implementing social behaviour change programmes to address social and structural drivers of HIV, TB and sexually transmitted infections. And R652 million has been committed over the next three years for the sanitary dignity programme to provide sanitary pads to girls in schools in the poorest communities.

But, when budget allocations are made, they don’t always get spent. Last year, in October, the South African Police gave R703.6-million back to the National Revenue Fund. Most of that underspending was from the police’s detective services. Considering our extremely high crime statistics and extremely low convictions rates, surely this money could have been spent? Why was it not? Did this money get reprioritized?

Let’s hope we see vast improvements on this front because at this moment we are angry. We are angry that police often traumatize us further when we report being raped. We are angry that the justice system often gives us no justice at all. We are angry that parolees are killing our children. We are angry that the state often only provides a small budget towards NPO’s that render imperative services to abused womxn and children who are expected to make miracles with the little they have. We are angry that Thuthuzela Care Centres lost counsellors while government was fumbling about the budget. We are angry that there are not enough shelters for abused womxn and children and those that exist are underfunded. This reduces much needed services while also significantly affecting the care work sector of which the majority is womxn. We are angry that human settlements budget had a big cut. Housing provision is a feminist issue, because when we need to leave an abusive situation, where must we go? We are angry that abusers walk the halls of power and make decisions that do not adequately attend to needs.

The burden of unpaid care for the sick falls to us. Our children are in jeopardy to disease. If you have a baby now, there are no BCG injections available to protect them from TB. Diabetics are not getting their medication because there are stock outs. Our communities are unsafe, our trains are unsafe; our schools are unsafe. Our household budgets are stretched. When the fuel price goes up, the price of transport goes up. When the electricity price goes up, we have to choose whether to buy units or food. This is how the violence in finance affects us.

Government officials must see the layers of oppression in people’s lives to engender an accountable budget. We need to reform the economy to be more inclusive so that everyone can participate in it especially womxn who usually end up bearing the brunt of bad decisions made.

So let’s get real. The economy will not grow until people are better able to afford goods and services and for that to happen, we need more people to be able to work and to be paid a decent wage. Cutting the public wage bill is not the solution, unless it means cutting the fat at the top. Does a Cabinet Minister who from April will earn R2,401,633 a year, not afford his own house? Do state coffers really need to be pilfered so that a Minister can entertain guests at a luxurious house paid for by the state? Do Chairpersons of Parliamentary Committees really need a 2.8% increase in salary amounting to just under R1.5million, while the minimum wage raises by a mere 3.8%, an extra 76 cents an hour? Treasury can cut the salaries of managers with no one to manage but themselves. But not the salaries of teachers and nurses. We need more teachers, nurses and mental health nurses.

What we are currently doing is letting the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Oxfam’s report, ‘Time to Care’, shows how our sexist economies are fueling the inequality crisis —enabling a wealthy elite to accumulate vast fortunes at the expense of ordinary people and particularly poor women and girls. As Oxfam highlights, the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa.

And yes, while we agree that solutions to the energy sector challenges are needed. First, cut the corruption at Eskom and keep the lights on, because in the darkness of the streets and our homes during load-shedding, the daily assault on our bodies is getting worse.

We need a government that listens to its citizens. We need to get back to a process of civil society engaging in budget alternatives and exploring creative solutions to the problems that befall our country.  We will gladly come along to Pretoria with our pots and pans and cutlery to set a table outside Treasury to engage over a meal of pilchards, if that is what it takes. We are tired of being invisible and our issues being used for political point scoring in a Parliament that has largely turned its back on people. It is time, government, to clean up your act. We will bring the Handy Andy.

This article was written by The Womxn’s Budget Collective which include the following organisations, Ubuntu Rural Womxn and Youth Movement, Sisterhood Movement, The Womxn Circle, Right to Know Womxn, Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies, Gugulethu Backyard Dwellers, National Waste Picker Movement, Gei Heist, Shayisfuba and Women & Democracy Initiative.