Statement of the Cry of the Xcluded: 2023/24 Budget an explosion is coming!

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As the Cry of the Xcluded, a movement of the millions of forgotten and forsaken people, we are outraged at Finance Minister Godongwana and his government’s proposed 2023/4 Budget. How can this government be so callous as to propose a Budget that slashes spending for education, health and social welfare and for public sector workers? While you do this, we are living in a disaster. 13 million workers are suffering unemployment, not for a few weeks but years. Bread, transport and electricity prices have brought millions of us to the brink. And still, the government targets us for this crisis while looking after its wealthy friends.

Cry of the Xcluded members held a picket in Makana. For the rest of 2023 leading to 2024, we will be organising and mobilising for the Year of Mass Action campaign.

As we promised at the time of the State of the Nation Address, the coming year will be a year of resistance. We are not yet strong enough or organised enough to promise a year of ungovernability. But surely, the callous disregard for the suffering of our people, of the workers whose labour produces the wealth of this country, of the unpaid labour of women who bear the pain of a dysfunctional state and must care for our children, tend to the sick and the elderly and then still do piecework for less than the minimum wage, are creating the conditions for the kind of social explosion last seen in July 2021. Why Mr Godongwana and your ANC do you think Marikana will not come to every corner of this country? Why do you think Tunisia and Tahrir Square will not come here?

This government lives in an Alice in Wonderland fantasy. The Minister says this is not an austerity budget. In saying that he tries single-handedly to change the meaning of the word. In the real world, this is a budget filled with budget cuts that will mainly affect the poor and marginalised, which will plunge more people into further terrifying levels of poverty, neglect and exclusion. What is that, if not austerity?

This budget imposes real cuts across the board. In real terms (that is, taking inflation into account), R88 billion has been cut from the 2023/4, budget compared to last year’s budget. And last year’s budget in turn contained big cuts in comparison to the previous one. The cycle of harsh austerity continues, albeit worse than before. No wonder the social fabric is disintegrating in our communities, becoming ever more violent.

Yet, budget cuts are NOT being imposed because there is no money. SARS has collected more in taxes than was expected – R93,7 billion more than the 2022 budget estimate. 

These cuts are directed at creating what is called a primary budget surplus. That’s a surplus when tax revenue is greater than total expenditure, excluding interest payments on government debt.

Why, we ask, are you so fixated on having a primary budget surplus when so many people are unemployed, hungry, and living in filth with no dignity? Would that not be a better focus for the fixation of Enoch Godongwana, a former trade unionist? This government is captured, this time by the financiers. What makes us so angry is that this is a choice made by a government which has lost its soul. It is a choice by the ANC government to dance to the interests and demands of the creditors and so-called investors while leaving the poor and marginalised to fend for themselves. 

In truth, this Budget makes many choices, all of which favour the rich and the middle classes against the poor and working people. This is not empty rhetoric. We are not demagogues. Here are the facts:

After taking into account for inflation, that is in REAL TERMS

  • Basic Education is cut by R8 billion and yet our schools are in a state of collapse; whereas the rich and the middle class use private education. 
  • Tertiary Education is cut by R4,3 billion; our universities are on fire because of financial exclusion of poor students; the middle class and the wealthy can afford the extra fees or they send their children to the growing band of private universities.
  • Health is cut by R13,3 billion when all around us clinics are closing or facing stockouts; the rich and the middle class use private health care;
  • Agriculture and rural development is cut by R2 billion with very little prospect of land reform ever materialising.

And then you go further to look after the middle class and the wealthy at our expense: R13 billion of tax relief while you can’t increase the R350 grant by even a cent.  They can have subsidised solar power while we load shed ourselves because we can’t afford another 18% increase in electricity prices.

Should we sigh with relief that the Special COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress grant has been extended for another year? Or should we express our distress and anger that it remains at its initial level of R350 – which can now buy just R277 of what it could in 2020? If the R350 was completely inadequate in 2020, how much more so now that its value has been slashed by more than 20%?

People tend to blame the state of service delivery on corruption and mismanagement, but you reduce the budget for local government again. How are municipalities supposed to finance the provision of basic and essential services through full cost recovery? People have been made too poor to pay. Mr Godongwana, we don’t have jobs, we don’t have any work, let alone decent work, and we don’t have a living wage. What part of this equation don’t you understand?

And then you attack public sector workers who must provide these services! Once again you make provision for below-inflation wage increases. For example, R15 billion real cut in the health wage bill will either mean slashing wages or retrenching staff. Either way, the provision of health services will become a bigger nightmare. 

And what about the land, Mr President and Mr Finance Minister? Land reform is cut by almost 6% in real terms and the medium-term framework says that trend will continue. Maybe you’re trying to encourage the landless to occupy productive land and be our own liberators, as Steve Biko advised.

And is there anything for us as women to look forward to in this Budget? Decent housing, jobs, maternity and old age homes, increased child maintenance and old age pension grants? Dololo!

And you give R254 billion in debt relief to Eskom. Everybody is talking as though you have agreed to pay R254 billion of Eskom’s debt. But that’s simply not true. What you’ve actually done is agree to take R168 billion of the debt onto the books of government and pay R86 billion of its interest payments. And has this solved the electricity crisis? 

There is no relief for the poor who are can’t afford the price increases. And worse – the debt relief for Eskom comes with a range of ‘conditionalities’ that fast track a “competitive electricity market”. That’s a fancy way of promoting the private sector to take over the potentially profitable parts of the energy sector. Your payments to Eskom are on condition that it allows the private sector to come in and run the power plants. For this, Eskom will have to provide lucrative long-term contracts to mostly foreign companies. These companies will slash jobs, hold down wages and demand increases in electricity prices to make profitable what should be a service to the people and the economy.

It is not as if there were no alternatives. You could have raised corporate tax; you could have introduced a wealth tax; you could have used the surpluses in the Government Employees Pension Fund (R45 billion in the last year alone) and directed these to fixing our municipalities,  Eskom, and Transnet, providing a universal basic income grant and 350kwh of free electricity. This would have employment knock-ons which in turn would stimulate the development of our economy. Public sector workers could have received a decent wage increase, which could go some way to reversing the collapse of public services. But no. You prioritise your middle-class and wealthy friends and leave the poor and marginalised to rot. 

Another South Africa is possible and we are going to be fighting for it. We call on our people to resist austerity, fight privatisation, fight for decent work and a living wage for all.

For media comments please contact: 

  • Zwelinzima Vavi, South African Federation of trade Unions (SAFTU): 079 182 4170
  • Joseph Mathunjwa, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU): 076 346 6402
  • Motsi Khokhoma,  Botshabelo Unemployed Movement: 073 490 7623
  • Ayanda Kota, Unemployed People’s Movement: 078 625 6462
  • Bridgette Nkomana, Back to Work Campaign: 074 484 0316
  • Vuvu Made, Assembly of the Unemployed:  073 325 7009
  • Lindi Mkhumbane, Cry of the Xcluded: 072 095 1776

ABOUT CRY OF THE XCLUDED: The Cry of the Xcluded was launched by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the Assembly of the Unemployed (AoU) on 12 February 2020 to unite the working class – employed and unemployed – in the struggle for jobs, services, and dignity.