The people of Nqwashu village don’t know how they will survive without the social grants they have depended on for years. Nqwashu is on the outskirts of Ntabankulu, 35km south of Mount Ayliff, in the Eastern Cape. The village is surrounded by mountains, and the dirt road that leads there is in a terrible state.
On the first day of each month, Nqwashu’s villagers ride along that road packed on the back of decrepit bakkies. They pay R36 for a return trip to Ntabankulu, or R60 return to Kokstad, and spend the entire day queuing for their social grants.
The news that on April 1 they might not get their grants comes as a shock.
Matshintsholo Luvela (71) says she is the sole breadwinner at home, supporting a family of five on a R1 500 pension.
“If we don’t have social grants, it would be the end of us. They might as well kill us. This is the money we use to eat, go to hospital and buy clothes and electricity with. We don’t have any other way of surviving except from these grants,” she says. “Our children are unemployed. They are sitting at home and are supported by us through this grant.”
Her unemployed daughter Veliswa (35) has a fouryear-old daughter, so she receives a R350 child support grant.
“No grant means no uniform for my daughter. It means no food for her and no money to go to the clinic when she is ill. If government stops the grants, it must at least give us jobs. Without this grant, we will die. It is all we have,” she says.
The Luvela’s neighbour, Nosicelo Gongoyi (25) is also unemployed. She has a six-year-old daughter and depends solely on her child grant to put food on the table, even for herself.
“We are poor people and have nowhere to go except to look to government to give us this grant. If they don’t pay us on April 1, it would really hurt us,” she says.
Nqwashu is situated in Ntabankulu Ward 13, which has a population of 8 883 people. Wazimap SA figures, derived from the most recent census, show that 59% of households are headed by women, and children comprise 48% of the population. Only 11.5% of residents have jobs, and the average monthly income is R1 200.
Nqwashu only has one school – Nqwashu Junior Secondary – which teaches pupils in grades 1 to 9. But to continue their schooling, children have to walk long distances to neighbouring villages. Others opt to rent accommodation closer to their schools, for which they pay up to R300 a month. That money also comes from their social grants and eats away at the budget for those left behind at home.
Although there is no water in the village – residents must fetch it from a river – some government work seems to be taking place. Some of the homesteads have newly built RDP houses, and each household has electricity and a pit toilet.
For Nomahlubi Nxulu (80), one of Nqwashu’s eldest villagers, who lives with five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, the option of paying people in cash at pay points is a further insult to the poor.
“If they are planning to take us back to that era, it means our government does not care about the poor. That will lead to a lot of people being shot and killed because that system attracts thugs to the pay stations,” she says.
“Government must do everything in its power to make this right. We cannot live without these grants and cannot afford not to have them. That is the reality. It must just find a solution and stop playing with people’s livelihoods.”
Nxulu says her family survives on her pension, one of her granddaughter’s child support grants, the grants for her two great-grandchildren and a foster-care grant for a relative’s child.
Nxulu grows vegetables and mealies to make sure there is some food at home.
Her unemployed neighbour, Thandeka Quvana (46), says her grandson and her sister’s daughter, who lives with her, also depend on grant money.
“How are we going to buy food and clothes for the kids without their grant?” she asks.
DESPERATE Phindiwe Mofoka (25) says her child will have no food without the grant