Wednesday, January 17, 2024

South Africa: Who’s exploiting who?

 A total of 28-million South African citizens, or 47% of the population, rely on social grants. [welfare payments].

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa hailed the governing party’s efforts to “tackle poverty head on”.

He was referring to the monthly R350 social relief of distress grant government introduced in 2020 which about 10-million people receive and other social grants such as old age pension and child support grants from which 18-million people benefit.

He said the party’s approach to tackling poverty has been two-pronged: “First through the social wage, which involves a range of social and economic interventions, including expanding access to quality basic services, and second through direct transfers to households in the form of social grants.

This year South Africans will head to the polls to vote for national and provincial governments.

As part of campaigning, a week ago Ramaphosa threatened that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme ) and social grants were likely to disappear should the ruling party lose power. He was lambasted for using scare tactics as part of electioneering.’

And in a social system where ‘can’t pay, can’t have’ is built in, those without will always find ways to try and get what the minority elite as got even if it means hurting other members of their class.

An unemployed teacher from Daveyton in Benoni, was receiving the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant each month since it was introduced during the Covid lockdown in 2020.

But in January 2023 he got an SMS from the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) alerting him that his cellphone number had been changed. He did not receive another grant payment again after this.

He has tried several times to report the fraud to Sassa via email. Each time, he is told that his case has been escalated. A year later, he still hasn't been helped. He is one of many people who complained to GroundUp in recent weeks about being defrauded and blocked from receiving the grant.

Elizabeth Raiters, who heads up the social grant help desk at PayTheGrants– a campaign focused on creating universal income security and which helps people find correct information on the SRD grant – says she has received hundreds of similar complaints from people across the country.

Raiters says Sassa's response to reports of unauthorised cellphone number changes has been to prohibit recipients from changing their numbers online. Recipients have to phone Sassa's help desk. They are then sent a one-time PIN to the cell number currently registered on the Sassa system to authorise the change. But for beneficiaries such as Nxumalo who have had their cellphone numbers taken over by possible fraudsters, this process is futile.

Raiters says, in addition to the unauthorised cellphone number changes, PayTheGrants has received complaints from several new applicants for the R350 grant who turned 18 in 2023 and discovered that their ID numbers were already being used to receive the grant, preventing them from accessing the grant.

The number of SRD grant beneficiaries varies between 7.5 million and 8.5 million, as recipients are subjected to monthly means tests.

Sassa is developing facial recognition software to strengthen the identity verification process for the grant, Letsatsi said. The software is expected to be implemented in the 2024/25 financial year.’

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Another Suez Crisis

 The Suez Canal was completed in 1869. It cut the journey distance from Britain to the Arabian sea by five thousand five hundred miles. 

To paraphrase the People’s Front of Judea, what has capitalism ever done for us?,  it has fulfilled its historic function to lead to the means for a socialist system of society to replace it. Whilst of being of benefit to Capitalism through the cutting of shipping costs and the time that commodities could be transported from A to B there is some benefit to the working class who prior to the canal, had much longer more dangerous journeys.

It is easy to see why the global capitalist class is so intent on protecting this trade route but its resorting to bombing those it holds responsible doesn’t appear to have had the desired effect.

It’s reported that, ‘Revenues generated by Egypt’s Suez Canal saw a 40% year-on-year decline in the first eleven days of 2024, canal authority head Osama Rabie said.

Ship traffic through the maritime artery connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea dropped 30% between January 1 and January 11 compared to the same period a year prior, the official noted.

According to Rabie, the number of ships that have moved through the Suez Canal fell to 544 in the first eleven days of the current year compared to 777 in the equivalent period of 2023.

He pointed out that the period of cargo transportation has increased by at least two weeks while costs for the delivery of goods and insurance were also growing.

“The Cape of Good Hope is not a valid and safe route for ships to cross at this time, especially in light of bad weather and the long duration of the crossing,” the official said, adding that navigating around the African continent adds up to 15 days compared to passing through the Suez Canal.The canal is a major source of foreign currency for Egypt. In recent years, the country’s government has been trying hard to increase revenues generated by allowing commercial vessels through it. The route was expanded in 2015, with further enlargement underway.

In June, Egypt's Suez Canal posted an all-time high annual revenue of $9.4 billion in the fiscal year 2022-2023, up from $7 billion recorded a year earlier. 

Back then, 25,887 ships carrying 1.5 billion tons of cargo passed through the route, marking the highest amount on record.

However, at the end of last year, cargo traffic through one of the world’s vital trade arteries dropped 28% due to the attacks carried out by Yemen-based Houthis against commercial ships in the Red Sea. The assaults became more frequent after the rebels instituted a de facto blockade through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.   They have been attacking vessels thought to be linked to Israel in what they say is a show of solidarity with the Palestinians following the escalation of hostilities in Gaza.’

Friday, January 12, 2024

Cameroon: IMF make poor poorer.

Twenty per cent of the population of Cameroon live in extreme poverty.

‘President Paul Biya announced in his annual end-of-year address that prices of petroleum products in the national market will certainly increase.

The leader said on Sunday (Dec. 31st) that despite a cut, the subsidy remained a heavy burden on public coffers.

It cost the state around 640 billion CFA francs (about 1 billion dollars) in 2023 down from over 1 000 billion CFA francs (some 1.7 billion dollars) in 2022.

"You must be aware that to maintain pump prices of fuel at their current levels, which are far below those in neighbouring countries, the State has to make huge financial sacrifices to subsidize petroleum product imports," he said.

[..]we will most certainly have no choice but to reduce it further, we will ensure that the requisite adjustments do not significantly impact the purchasing power of households," he promised

The IMF has for years called on Cameroon to reduce its fuel subsidies, which are estimated to reach 2.9% of GDP in 2022.

The lender and the central African nation agreed last November to extend an Economic Program until 2025.

President Biya also vowed to intensify actions implemented to combat corruption and misappropriation of public funds which he said are essential for protecting public resources.

At the end of September 2023, inflation rate in Cameroon reached an annual average of 7.8%. The National Institute of Statistics blamed the increase on the rise in food prices and transport costs, with inflation rates of 12.8% and 11.5% respectively.’

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Reformist Band Aids v. the Socialist Scapel

  Indrajit Samarajiva says of Band Aid’s charity anthem “It’s not just that these lyrics haven’t aged well. They were never good at all.''   With which we can agree, unlike his superficial critique: “I mean, this is all wrong. It does snow in Africa, although not a lot.”

In a short article titled Band aids for poverty ( July 2003) we observed:

'Almost 20 years ago Bob Geldorf organised “Band Aid” concerts in London and Philadelphia to help the starving millions in Ethiopia. So what is happening in that country today? Local musicians are organising similar concerts to aid the starving. “Aid agencies estimate 14 million Ethiopians are at risk of starvation after the worst drought in nearly two decades. The United Nations said Ethiopia needs 1.5 million tonnes of food aid this year.” Herald (26 May) In 1984 Ethiopia was devastated by a famine which killed one million people. In 2003 we have 14 million at risk of starvation. So much for charity, so much for well-intentioned reformers. What we need is a complete transformation of society not an elastoplast on a gaping wound.'

And today it comes as no surprise to read:

'Ethiopia's Tigray region faces a devastating famine, with thousands in desperate need of aid. The aftermath of war and drought leaves residents, especially the elderly, struggling for survival.'

Plus ça change!