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Thursday, 25 February 2021,

Mr Tito Mboweni, we waited yesterday with bated breath for a Budget Speech that takes into account the many losses we survived and continue to survive as South Africans. The Rural Women’s Assembly of South Africa is part of a self-organised regional movement in SADC, and has a membership of over 100 000 rural women, supporting rural women in defending their rights and protecting the common natural resources of the member countries. Our plight as Rural Women is great, though regularly ignored and overshadowed. We had been poor, hungry and landless before the COVID-19, and these conditions further exacerbated our circumstances. We had hoped for relief in your budget speech yesterday, but instead we feel further marginalised by your austerity. Nothing in your statement shows that the wealthy percentile in our country, including the fat cats and big corporations, will compensate and feel the pinch, the same way the austerity will be felt by black rural women of this country. Is this budget not meant to also serve the poor? What does it mean to have a democratic order, when the very citizens who vote to keep the leaders in power, are left hungry, in imminent danger of being raped or murdered or even dying from a global pandemic which with vaccines can be managed? Yet the government does not engage our pain and suffering. The urban-rural divide is real and needs to be addressed and spotlighted at all levels of government to really engage the struggles of the rural women and their communities. We wish to highlight a few issues we need you to address as you action your budget speech in the coming months.

Firstly, COVID19 has left devastation in its path at the backend of the second wave and the pending third wave to come. Living in rural communities, the impact of this pandemic reaches our families, reaches our pockets and reaches our bodies. We are not close to amenities like hospitals, police stations, safe homes. We are asking where the money is that will be dedicated to Safe Homes for our women and children who are at the receiving end of violence from men in this country? Where is the money that will resource the police stations and police visibility in our rural communities? We need more women police to be trained to respond to the rate of Femicide where every three hours a woman is being killed.

We welcome the increase in tax on alcohol and cigarettes, as these vices we can live without, as it always ends in misery for women. Can the tax incurred by this increase be used for trauma counselling for both the losses women endure as well as the fear which is imminent of dying at the hand of a man or contracting COVID?

We are in the same storm, but definitely not in the same boats. The rich are benefiting from our water, our land, our food insecurity and all this while damaging our climate! We demand for an increase in tax on the wealthy and the big corporations. They cannot be treated equal to those of us already suffering in the vicious cycle of poverty. They must pay up and these funds need to support our demand for food, the need for land and for water!

We want to feed our family. The immediate solution are the grants and the relief funds. Meagre increases of between R10 to R30 to each of the grants, is not sufficient to feed our families when food prices are soaring. Fuel increase will certainly further affect food prices and definitely travel costs for rural poor. We need to trust that the R350 per month, whilst gazetted will reach our pockets and not be lost in that of corrupt officials’. We demand that the R350 relief fund is given till we are all vaccinated and the fear of imminent death at the hand of COVID-19 is no more. What is the plan after the expiry date is reached in April? Will there be an alternative plan to continue to support the poor and hungry? We want the issues centred on SASSA payments with moving pay dates and incorrect amounts to be ironed out. We further want to encourage the conversation about a Basic Income Grant which will support the growing number of joblessness which is now well over the 7 million mark.

We want skill development programs in our communities where children are not able to attend school, and not able to find jobs as well or create their own employment.

We need LAND and access to WATER! The land question for growing our own food is pertinent. Land cannot be accessed without gaining equal access to water, which is a cross cutting issue of hygiene, health and sustenance. We need to sustain our families by growing our own foods and also our own indigenous herbs to keep our immune system boosted in the fight against COVID-19 and other predatory diseases. Land is vital to life and sustained livelihoods. Our local, provincial and national governments should work together to keep this issue on the agenda, so to address issues of growing hunger and disease in this country. The money put aside to advance continued corruption in State-Owned Entities like Eskom, could be used to resource and give access to land for women to relieve the economic pressure that comes with this great austerity of the time. We demand your support in realising access to land and water through our ‘One Woman, One Hectare’ campaign to make sure our rural women and our communities are not left in the trenches. This campaign should bring relief from the burden on our women and therefore our greater communities.

We are facing the stark reality of an imminent third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and if the second wave is anything to go by the impacts become deadlier with each wave. The announcement by you Mr Mboweni is that a rigorous vaccine roll-out will happen, but as Rural Women we ask if the R19.3 billion spent on vaccines for “the majority of the country” includes us? We need more transparency from the government on how the roll-out will happen. Will it reach the farthest flung parts of this country where not even hospitals can reach? How will you ensure that the people who need it most would be able to access it in order?

We conclude by saying a once-off speech with no directives on how such decisions will impact the lives of the most vulnerable, is negligent and could be fatal. Our aspirations are not covered in your speech. It is only the rich’s interest that is sustained therefore we reject your austerity budget speech tabled on 24 February 2021.

We, the Rural Women’s Assembly of South Africa, have spoken and want our voices to be heard.

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