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Prior to the pandemic, South Africa already had a well-established social assistance programme derived from the Constitution of South Africa. Despite this, the social assistance program was not adequate to meet the basic needs of households and individuals, exacerbated by the long-standing exclusions for the able-bodied population in the age bracket of eighteen to fifty-nine age, particularly for (black and coloured) women and youth who are vulnerable in the South African economy.

During the pandemic, the government introduced special grants, including the COVID-19 Special Relief of Distress (SRD) grant for unemployed people between eighteen to fifty-nine as well as a caregiver grant which this paper explores. These measures provide a ray of progressivity into how governments can provide social protection through fiscal policy. The COVID-19 SRD grant, for example, has been viewed as a potential pathway to a Universal Basic Income Grant (UBIG) by civil society which would be a significant policy change to adequately address the needs of those in the non-waged economy.

In line with the DAWN’s Policy Transformations analytical framework (Llavaneras Blanco and Cuervo, 2021), this study explores the interlinkages between macroeconomic policy and social protection. 

Busi Sibeko, from the Institute for Economic Justice, applies a feminist approach, understanding how these measures impact on existing power relations, particularly inequality. An intersectional lens that takes account of gender, geographic, and racial inequalities is included. A particular focus is placed on social reproduction and how social protection plays a role in ensuring the critical work of reproducing, caring and maintaining life, which includes, but is not limited to, the reproduction of the labour force.

About the speaker

Busi Sibeko (Institute for Economic Justice) is an economist and researcher. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Duke University and a Masters in the Political Economy of Development from SOAS, University of London. In her recent post at the Institute for Economic Justice, Busi’s research focus was macroeconomic policy, including participatory feminist budgeting. She was the co-Chair of the Budget Justice Coalition which is comprised of 14+ civil society organisations. She provided research support to the labour constituency. She authored The Cost Austerity: Lessons for South Africa and is a co-author of A fiscal stimulus for South Africa. In 2020, Busi was featured in the roundtable series of renowned economists on Rebirthing the Global Economy to Deliver Sustainable Development by the United Nations Secretary General. She considers herself a feminist political economist in training and is determined to be a part of unwinding structural injustice.