“Bishop Barry was extraordinary in his ordinariness,” Said Bishop Buti Tlhagale.



In the Gospel of John, we read that Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “come and see”. When Jesus saw Nathanael coming, he said of him: “There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit” (Jn.1.47). For me, this image summarises the personality of Bishop Barry. He was a towering giant, soft spoken for a man of his size. I have often heard the word ‘gravitas’ tossed about. Now here was a man, a priest with a spiritual gravitas, always self-effacing and treating others with warmth that spontaneously came from his heart. Bishop Barry had the power of grace. He was good with people. He was more like Mary, the sister of Martha in the Gospel of Luke. When Martha complained about Mary, Jesus said: “Mary has chosen the better part,” the listening part. This is how Barry was. He naturally considered the other person who came into his space as a messenger of grace (Lk.10:42).

Bishop Barry had admirable spiritual qualities which distinguished him as a leader, pastor and Formator. He was a good listener, a fair and wise leader, a selfless pastor, ready to forgive, kind-hearted, patient and compassionate. But these qualities are generally attributed to God. We read in the book of Exodus:

“turn to Yahweh your God again

       for he is all tenderness and compassion

       slow to anger and of great kindness” (Ex. 34:6)

Bishop Barry was extraordinary in his ordinariness. He possessed these spiritual qualities in a good measure. This explains why he has left such an indelible mark on his former students, parishioners and colleagues. He was a rich source of positive influence. This gentle man whom Jesus saw, whom we saw and named him: “one incapable of deceit”.

One of the exemplary commitments of Bishop Barry was his unwavering commitment to justice issues. He saw this as an integral part of his vocation as an Oblate Priest and Bishop. He spoke passionately about the unacceptable living conditions of the people who live in the informal settlements, the discarded people, Frank Fanon’s “the scum of the earth,” people who are excluded from participating in a more just and equitable society.

On the South African socio-political landscape, informal settlements, symbolise, not only abject poverty, but also abandonment and rejection. These are areas that are often without electricity, water, proper sanitation, security and other amenities. They remain an open wound that demands attention from those who claim to have a social conscience. For how long shall we run away from poor people? That suffocating stench; that rot won’t go away until we do something about our numbness, our indifference to human suffering.

Bishop Barry was convinced that our vocation as church is to be present in society by proclaiming the Gospel that liberates and that brings joy to the afflicted. A deeper and sincere involvement of a Missionary with the people he or she serves, is in fact a deepening of one’s relationship with God. St. Teresa of Calcutta used to say that working closely with the poorest of the poor is like touching Christ himself. Bishop Barry’s identification with the poor was a source of inner strength for him. This was his life-choice. Like Eugene de Mazenod, the founder of the Oblates, who, in his day, spoke patois to the French working class, Barry Wood spoke to the local people in fluent Zulu. In so doing he sought to bring them a message of joy and hope in spite of the chains of oppression, of exploitation, of abuse and the lack of opportunities. He preached on the mercy of God that “opens our hearts to a hope of being loved forever in spite of our brokenness and sinfulness” (The face of Mercy, Pope Francis, no. 2).

I once heard him moan, with a touch of frustration, that after 20 years of democracy, the living conditions of most of the poor people have not changed; that some have even sunk deeper into poverty because of the bane of unemployment. This is the Barry Wood who insisted that the love of God, poured into our hearts (Ro.5.5) can only be shown by lifting the poor from the dung heap, by putting others first, by recognizing the rights and dignity of others. This is who Bishop Barry was. He was not hireling who has no relationship with his sheep. He was a noble, authentic shepherd who enters by the door. “The doorkeeper recognizes him and admits him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn.10.30). This is how Bishop Barry related to people. He was gracious, affable and personable. And consistently so. There was no mood swings. At heart, he was a very private person.

During the past 20 years (at the Bishops’ Conference), one of the most controversial topics was the celebration of 40 years of ‘Humanae Vitae’.

Generally the Bishops sing from the same sheet. But not on this topic. The contents of the book, “God, Love and Sex” was to be published in memory of the encyclical, Humanae Vitae. The book underwent several revisions. Bishop Barry was of the opinion that it should not be published. He suggested, in not so many words, that Bishops should stay out of the bedroom. He advised that Bishops should be sensitive and not impose a burden on couples. Perhaps this is said more eloquently by Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia; that the church ought to be “conscious of the frailty of many of her children”, that she should “turn with love to those who participate in her life in an incomplete manner” for true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” (nos. 291,296). Bishop Barry was a genuine shepherd, cast in the mould, if you wish, of Pope Francis. This does not mean that there should be no laws, no rules, no Commandments.

He was also a defender of the truth. He would not stand idle by when someone he knows is being unfairly, unjustly maligned. He defended integrity and honesty. He was never long winded. He spoke in clear, short and effective sentences. He intervened only when it was necessary to do so. The motto: “the truth shall set you free” – acted like a background refrain in his interventions. This man was a Nathaneal without deceit. He lived by the courage of his conviction.

Thorn in the flesh

During the past few years, Bishop Barry began to experience, like St. Paul, a thorn in his flesh. He sensed that his body was breaking up slowly. It was coming apart at the seams. That centre could really no longer hold things as tightly as it used to. He felt that he was gradually losing a grip on his own body. As a Missionary, he was increasingly experiencing weakness and fragility. And this was beginning to affect his ministry, his commitment to serve the people of God. He nevertheless showed a remarkable stoic resilience. He worked right up to the end. Barry Wood generally never used his inner suffering and affliction as an excuse not to show up at meetings nor not to attend to his duties. It appears that Bishop Barry secretly knew, again like St. Paul, that in his suffering and affliction, he experienced his spiritual strength (2 Cor.12:10). The words of St. Paul to the Colossians comes to mind:

“It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church” (Col.1:24).

Barry Wood experienced the tension between his affliction and the mercy of God. In this hour of darkness, we pray that he be accompanied by the light of the Easter Candle to meet the Risen Lord. We are gathered here in prayer for safe passage of Bishop Barry because we cannot presume on God’s mercy even though Pope Francis encourages us all by saying that God’s mercy is “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” (Amoris Laetitia, 297). Mary, Our Mother, Our Lady of Fatima, whose feast we celebrate today, we plead with you to intercede on behalf of your fervent devotee, Bishop Barry. As for Bishop Barry, his eternal longing, his heart’s restlessness, has come to an end now. For St. Augustine reminds us that our hearts will not rest until they rest in Thee.

Now all we are left with are the beautiful memories of an exceptional person, a special person, a noble Oblate Priest, a courageous Bishop who lived his ordinary life to a heroic degree.

+Buti Tlhagale o.m.i.

























SACBC CPLO – The Molefe Saga

The Molefe Saga

The reappointment of Brian Molefe as Chief Executive of Eskom signals yet another low point in the ethics of public governance in post-1994 South Africa. As with so many irrational and illegal appointments recentlyi, this one will in all likelihood be set aside – though probably only after protracted litigation, at enormous cost to taxpayers rich and poor.

Encouragingly, the ANC itself seems to have realised that this has been a redeployment too far, and has called the responsible minister, Lynne Brown, to account. But while we wait for the saga to play out politically and legally, there are at least two tangential aspects that demonstrate a deep malaise in the way public office is valued and approached.

Firstly, Mr Molefe’s reappointment has been justified partly on the basis that it is an alternative to having to pay him out R30 million; indeed, the Eskom board approved such a payment before it was prohibited by Ms Brown.

Mr Molefe worked for Eskom for 21 months (at an annual salary of just under R10 million) before he resigned in the wake of the Public Protector’s State of Capture report, which implicated him in questionable dealings with the Guptas. The R30 million payment thus represents R1.42 million for each month of his actual service to Eskom. (That amount, added to his salary, would have meant that he was earning approximately R75 000 per day; at the time, the recipient of a state old-age grant was receiving R50 per day.)

The private sector in South Africa is often – and rightly – criticised for the obscene amounts that some of its chief executives earn. It is pointed out that the gap between their earnings and those of their lowest paid employees is among the highest in the world; and that this is contributing to the gross inequality that characterises our economy and society.

It is surely not too much to expect that state owned enterprises such as Eskom would set an example of restraint in this regard, and would show the private sector that it is not necessary to accommodate such levels of avariciousness. Instead, it has demonstrated a level of profligacy that echoes the Nkandla scandal. While Ms Brown must be commended for blocking this unconscionable payout, the fitness for office of a board that can propose such a waste of public funds must be strongly doubted. In fact, the whole ethos underpinning the payment of senior executives of state owned enterprises needs to be investigated; a couple of years ago the SABC board, for example, happily acquiesced when Hlaudi Motsoeneng awarded himself a multi-million rand salary increase.

Secondly, Mr Molefe’s recent history shows just how unimportantly Parliament is regarded by the dominant faction of the governing party. To be an MP ought to be one of the most valued and highly esteemed jobs available. People of real skill and talent, with a deeply developed sense of public service, should be put forward by their parties; and once there, they should not be removed for flimsy reasons.

Mr Molefe’s record in business, before he became embroiled with the Guptas, was such that he would have been a considerable asset to various parliamentary committees, especially in the economics and finance clusters. As a former senior treasury official, and having been chief executive of the Public Investment Corporation and of Transnet, as well as of Eskom, he would have been ideally placed to lead parliamentary oversight of a range of government departments.

Instead, it turns out that his seat in Parliament was merely a convenient parking space while he – or his backers – waited for something more ‘important’ to turn up. To argue, as many people have, that his deployment as an ANC MP was simply a preliminary step to his being appointed finance minister, a plan since frustrated by internal ANC resistance, merely reinforces the point – clearly, if he was not to become a minister, being an ‘ordinary’ MP was not good enough for him, and a better position had to be found.

This diminishes and demeans the office of MP and the status of Parliament. Membership of the National Assembly should not be a mere rung on the ladder to an executive position or to high political office. (In this regard it is encouraging that – so far at least – speculation that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would be ‘deployed’ to Parliament, and thence to Cabinet, as a means of giving her a higher profile in the ANC succession race, has not been proved correct.)

This attitude – which although prevalent in the governing party is probably not unique to it – has contributed to the overall weakening of Parliament vis a vis the executive. Ministers routinely fail to honour calls from committees to appear before them, and when they do, they are too often treated obsequiously, with little or no proper questioning being allowed. It is as if the ministers are in command and the MPs are there to take instructions – a reversal of what the Constitution provides.

It will be interesting to see what Parliament chooses to do by way of oversight into this latest attempt by executive to diminish its role, power and prestige.

Mike Pothier

Research Co-ordinator                                          Read the rest of SACBC CPLO – The Molefe Saga »

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Finding God in Addiction. A Pastoral Response to Addiction and Recovery

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Winter Living Theology 2017

I write to you with details of Winter Living Theology 2017 (WLT). This year we welcome Fr Thomas Weston SJ from the USA-West Province. The title of the series this year is “Finding God in Addiction. A Pastoral response to addiction and recovery”.

Addiction comes in many forms – alcohol, drugs, porn, gambling etc. – so Fr Weston will offer some insight into the dynamics involved and how we might respond pastorally to addicts. He will explore, in the series, topics like ‘The gift of desperation – crisis, emergency and reaching out for help’, ‘A brief history of recovery movements’, ‘One addict helping another’, ‘Cleaning up the mess’, ‘Progress not perfection’ and ‘The love of God and addicts’.

Fr Weston is himself a recovered alcoholic. He has been sober for 40 years and has been involved in 12-step programs as well as giving retreats and workshops. He believes, from experience, that addiction can be overcome with the assistance of others and the help of God’s grace. He designed the series for those who struggle with addiction, their family and friends as well as those who are involved in responding pastorally to addicts. We know that addiction is a growing social problem, especially amongst our young people, in South Africa.

Publicity material is attached digitally to this email. Please make every effort to make this information available to those you think might benefit from WLT.

A small introductory video is also available for promotional purposes on the Institute’s website. Feel free to download and distribute it as you see fit from: http://www.jesuitinstitute.org.za/index.php/2017/04/21/video-finding-god-inaddiction/

The dates for Gauteng: Lectures 4-6 July. The venue for the programme will be Lumko Institute, Benoni. Anyone

wishing to register for the Gauteng lectures can contact Ursula van Nierop at the Jesuit Institute

admin@jesuitinstitute.org.za or by calling 011 482-4237. Lumko has facilities for anyone wishing to stay there during the course.

If there is any further information you need please feel free to contact the Institute. We are hoping that this year’s series, dealing with an important and growing scourge in our country and urgently needing a pastoral response, will attract good attendance from all involved in pastoral ministry, schools, family ministry etc.

Wishing you all the best and looking forward to hearing from you.

In the Lord,


Fr. Russell Pollitt, SJ



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SACBC CPLO – Alternative Forms of Land Ownership

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Briefing Paper 430

May 2017

Alternative Forms of Land Ownership

1. Introduction

The history of land dispossession in South Africa has been argued and studied and analysed for years. Land was one of the major issues in the struggle against colonialism and apartheid, and thus also a significant point of contention at the negotiations that gave birth to the Constitution of the country in 1996. This led to what became known as the ‘property clause’ in the Bill of Rights, and has resulted in many arguments and disputes about what the Constitution really says on the question of land dispossession and redress by the state. What is accepted by most people is that land ownership patterns in South Africa are unequal, unjust, and detrimental to the fabric and functioning of society. In addition, land ownership is widely considered as a crucial way of dealing with poverty and social inequality in the country. The question, then, that is assuming ever greater importance and urgency is how to change ownership patterns and to include the previously excluded.

2. The Property Clause

The 1993 interim constitution as well as section 25(7) of the 1996 Constitution and the Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994, all dealt with land dispossession. It is often wrongly argued that section 25 of the Constitution not only protects land owners and entrenches their right to land ownership, but also that it is the biggest barrier to land reform and land restitution. The section has also been incorrectly interpreted to mean that land can only be acquired through the ‘willing buyer-willing seller’ principle. However, all that the section says is that no one shall be deprived of their property arbitrarily; whenever land is repossessed or expropriated, as section 25(2) says

can be done, the process must be procedurally correct and just to everyone. In fact, section 25(7) gives a clear right of ownership to those who lost their land under past unjust laws, and clearly calls for these rights to be redressed. Even if the Constitution was amended to allow for expropriation without compensation, the state would still have to satisfy the constitutional demand that the process must be just and fair to everyone.

3. Past Policies

The post-1994 land restitution programme was subject to three important limitations. Firstly, it had a 1913 cut-off date; secondly, the focus was on major community dispossessions that could very easily be historically confirmed; and finally, there was an end point on 31st December 1998, after which claims could not be made. As a result, land taken before 1913, and land taken from smaller groups and/or individuals that had neither the capacity nor the evidence to prove dispossession, could not be restored. In addition, individuals and communities who, for various reasons, had not managed to lodge claims in the four years up to December 1998, were excluded from doing so. To address some of these concerns, in 2014 the process was reopened but it then stalled due to legal challenges in the courts. This has meant that many of those who had no means to reclaim land they had lost, or who were simply prevented from legally owning land in the past, remain landless.

But what is the state of land ownership at present?

4. Ownership and Other Forms of Tenure

Some have made the valid point that it is not necessary for people to own land, but rather that their rights of access be secured.

There are many different forms of land tenure in South Africa, with direct land ownership being one BP 430: Alternative forms of Land Ownership 2

of them. Other forms of tenure include communal land (as in community property associations), commonage land, joint ventures, and various forms of leasing or renting.

‘Land tenure’ refers to the terms and conditions on which land is held, used and transacted and, as noted, it is a broader concept than just land ownership.

Its main purpose is to enhance and secure peoples’ land rights, whatever they are. Rules of tenure indicate how property rights are to be allocated within society. This is to ensure that arbitrary depravations and evictions, landlessness, and general property insecurity, are avoided, as well as to ensure that rights holders are able to invest in the land and use it sustainably.

4.1. Communal land 1

The communal land tenure policy deals with tenure systems affecting mostly rural land occupied by African communities. It refers not to ownership but to ‘use rights’ enjoyed by communities. ‘Communal property signifies the collective relationship between people and their shared land. The policy seeks to reform communal tenure so as to ensure the security of land rights and production relations for people residing in communal areas by establishing institutionalised use rights, especially for households and other users, which will then be administered either by traditional councils in areas that observe a customary law or communal property outside these counsels.

Though the values underlying this system are considered a continuation of old forms of traditional land tenure in African communities, the question of who actually owns the land is still a contested one. There is no clear agreement as to whether the land belongs to the state, the tribal councils, the chiefs and other traditional leaders, or to the communities living on the land.

4.2. Commonage land

Commonage refers to land owned by a municipality under the Department of Land Affairs’ Municipal Commonage Programme of 1997, where land was availed mainly for use by poor or subsistence farmers to graze livestock and for small-scale allotment farming. Subsistence farmers are thus able to make use of commonage to supplement their income, as well as to provide for household consumption. Commonage was seen as a stepping stone to more commercial forms of farming, but also for giving subsistence farmers access to agricultural land without them actually having to buy or own large pieces of land for their exclusive use.2

4.3. ‘One Hectare One Household’

A similar programme is referred to as the ‘One Hectare One Household’ plan, where one hectare of land is allocated to every needy household. The land to be allocated will be acquired by the state and surveyed, and land-use plans will be drawn up, with a title deed issued to each household. Any surplus land that is left over after each household is allocated their one hectare, will be communally owned and designated for collective use. The idea is to then promote the formation of co-operatives linked to agri-parks.3

4.4. Joint ventures

There are several collective schemes ranging from ‘Strengthening the Relative Rights of People Working the Land’ (colloquially known as the 50/50 voluntary share scheme), to other ‘Equity Share Schemes’, and ‘Out-grower/contract’ farming.

These ventures refer to new farmers being given land reform subsidies by government so as to enable them to acquire shares in existing agricultural enterprises. However, this does not include land ownership rights. The idea behind joint ventures is that outside help or investment is needed to sustain agriculture and to improve productivity and livelihoods. Such ventures may be able to offer local communities sustainable development over a period of time.

These forms of ‘ownership’ have come under criticism mainly because they do not actually include ownership of the land or the farm, but simply provide equity in what is owned by someone else. Thus the relationship between the various partners becomes unequal. Some have argued that the relationship between the mainly white farmers who own the land and the new black farmers who own equity becomes characterised by paternalistic attitudes. Even worse, the new equity partners have no actual say in the running of the farm, and since they have no rights of residence on the land, they can be evicted from it.4

4.5. Individual ownership

Individual ownership of land is the most common form of ownership, and most of farming land is often owned individually and handed down through families. This is the form that dominates BP 430: Alternative forms of Land Ownership 3

1 http://www.customcontested.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/06-AUG-2013-Communal-Land-Tenure-Policy-v2.pdf

2 http://www.plaas.org.za/sites/default/files/publications-pdf/ELARSA%2005.pdf

3 http://www.gov.za/speeches/minister-launched-one-household-one-hectare-programme-kenton-sea-eastern-cape-30-oct-2015

4 Boyce Tom, Researcher at TCOE: Presentation at the CPLO roundtable discussion on “Alternative Forms of Land Ownership”. 15/03/2017, Townhouse Hotel, Cape Town.

This Briefing Paper, or parts thereof, may be reproduced with acknowledgement.

For further information, please contact the CPLO Office Administrator.

the housing market as well, where it is supported by the possession of title deeds and the cadastral system. There has been an attempt to promote this form of ownership even for traditional communal land, arguably to allow for it to be used as bankable collateral, thereby facilitating economic activity with the land as an asset. Those opposing the turning of communal land tenure into individual land ownership point to the complexities of familial and gender conflicts, and the possibility of land being sold off by poor people, leaving them and their families even more destitute.

4.6. Group ownership

Other forms of group ownership have been tried, including trusts and Community Property Associations (CPAs). Because these are actual forms of ownership, and not just equity, they have the advantage that everyone’s voice is the same. However, like everything that is collectively owned, consensus is often very difficult to achieve. There have been other problems with these schemes and new legislative amendments are presently before Parliament to deal with some of the challenges.

Coupled with this form of ownership especially of agricultural land are various programmes to support the previously excluded in the development of the land. These programmes include the Settlement Land Acquisition Grant (SLAG), and Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD). It is noteworthy that government has also come up with systems of tenure where the state owns the land and leases it out to beneficiaries for production, reserving the right to revoke the lease should the beneficiaries fail to deliver in terms of production. The Proactive Land Acquisition System (PLAS) is one such scheme, with the aim of leasing out the land rather than transferring ownership.

5. Conclusion

There are several points that are of significance here. The first is that, with commonage and communal land, access does not depend on ownership. This distinction is important because for many people and communities the question of ownership is secondary to the question of access. Thus, it does not necessarily matter for those groups who actually owns the land as long as they have access to it to meet their developmental, economic, and social needs. Accordingly, the question of alternative forms of ownership gets overtaken by alternative forms of tenure, i.e. alternative forms of secure rights of access to land, beyond necessarily owning the land.

But the question of actual ownership is important for many other reasons. These range from the ability to trade in land because one actually owns it; to the right to decide how land can and should be used because one owns that land; to being able to bequeath land to one’s children or the next generation; to the ability to use the land for any social and economic activity that allows for development; to the power to determine social access by others. But more important in a country with South Africa’s history of dispossession, ownership of the land allows for a healing narrative of liberation and restitutive justice where those who had been previously dispossessed can truly say that the land has been returned to them. And even beyond this narrative, the glaring, racially-defined inequalities that still dictate our spatial geography can begin to be reduced and normalised.


Matsepane Morare SJ


Sondré Bailey

Research Intern

Sondré Bailey is master’s student in political science at the

University of the Western Cape, currently completing a semester

internship at CPLO.



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SACBC CPLO-Budget 2017: What Are the Options for the Poor?

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Briefing Paper 429

May 2017

SACBC CPLO: Budget 2017: What Are the Options for the Poor?

“You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.” –

Saint Ambrose

1. Introduction

The phrase ‘the option for the poor’, which is a cornerstone of Catholic Social Teaching, was first coined by the Jesuit leader, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, in 1968 in a letter to his confreres in Latin America. It was later further articulated and elaborated on by several popes, particularly Pope John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus.

It was the El Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero who described the concept best. When asked what it meant, he replied:

“I offer you this by way of example. A building is on fire and you’re watching it burn, standing and wondering if everyone is safe. Then someone tells you that your mother and your sister are inside that building. Your attitude changes completely. You’re frantic; your mother and sister are burning and you’d do anything to rescue them even at the cost of getting charred. That’s what it means to be truly committed. If we look at poverty from the outside, as if we’re looking at a fire, that’s not to opt for the poor, no matter how concerned we may be. We should get inside as if our own mother and sister were burning. Indeed it’s Christ who is there, hungry and suffering.”1

Taking our cue from Archbishop Romero, can we argue that South Africa’s 2017 Budget is one that is truly committed to the plight of the poor? To answer this question the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO), in collaboration with the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (PACSA), hosted a roundtable in March to explore whether the 2017 Budget responded optimally to the plight of millions of poor South Africans. Mr Mervyn Abrahams, Director of PACSA, and Mr Christie Viljoen, an economist at KPMG, were tasked with getting the conversation going. This paper will draw on the roundtable discussion and other sources to evaluate whether the 2017 Budget opted for the poor.

2. The Budget Numbers

Some have suggested that the Budget numbers point to relief for the poor. Minister Pravin Gordhan said that it was a budget that was “highly redistributive to poor and working families”, taking from urban economies to fund services in the rural areas. He further stressed that a considerable portion – approximately two-thirds – was geared towards “realising social rights.”2

As evidence of this ‘pro poor’ budget, commentators point to the following (to be spent over three years):3

R490 billion (R457 billion last year) on social grants;

BP 429: Budget 2017-What are the Options for the Poor 2


R106 billion (R93.1billion) on transfers to universities, with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) getting R54.3 billion (R41.2 billion);

 R751.9 billion (R707.4 billion) on basic education;

 R114 billion (R108.3 billion) for subsidised public housing;

 R94.4 billion (R102 billion) on water resources and bulk infrastructure;

 R189 billion (R171.3 billion) to municipalities to provide basic services to poor households;

 R142.6 billion for subsidised public transport;

 R606 billion on health, including R59.5 billion on the HIV/Aids conditional grant.

Social grants have also been increased:4

 Old age grant (under 75s) from R1 505 to R 1 600 per month;

 Old age grant (over 75s) from R1 525 to R1 620;

 War veterans grant from R1 525 to R1 620;

 Disability grant from R1 505 to R1 600;

 Foster care grant from R890 to R920;

 Care dependency grant from R1 505 to R1 600; and

 Child support grant from R355 to R380.

At first sight these numbers may be construed to be ‘pro-poor’ but, on closer scrutiny, do they really offer an option to the poor?

3. The Numbers Scrutinised

Participants at the CPLO roundtable, attended by civil society, NGOs, and parliamentarians,5 were for the most part in agreement – not enough is being done for the poor. In particular, PACSA’s Mervyn Abrahams argued that the budget “does not respond to the real context and crisis of what is happening on the ground.”6

Mr Abrahams argued that, although there had been an increase in social grants, recipients were not financially better off than they were in 2016. This argument is based on the fact that increases had not kept pace with inflation or with PACSA’s Food Price Barometer, an index that specifically measures inflation for low-income households. According to the Barometer, a basket of food for low-income households had increased from R1 797.04 in January 2016 to R2 092.95 in January 2017 – an increase of R295.91, or 16.5%. In contrast, the old-age pension, which many households rely on, had been increased by R95 to R1 600 (6.3%) which was still far below the cost of a basic basket of food.

The recipients of the Child Support Grant (CSG) are also in financial distress despite the increase of R20 which pushed the total amount to R380. According to PACSA, “inflation on the cost of food to provide for the basic monthly nutritional and health needs of children aged between 10-13 years increased by R66.48 (11.6%)” yet the extra R20 represented an increase of only 5.56%.

To further illustrate how costly it is to provide for the nutritional needs of a child, PACSA cites the following7:

 In January 2017 the cost of providing a child aged between 10-13 years old with a basic but nutritionally complete monthly diet is R640.19, or R21.34 per day.

 It costs R680.23, or R22.67 a day, to feed a girl child aged between 14-18 years.

 The cost of feeding a boy child of 14-18 years is R758.49, or R25.28 per day.

Participants agreed with Mr Abrahams when he argued that only a significant increase in social grant spending will make a real impact. In its submission to Treasury on the Budget, PACSA argued that:

 The value of the CSG should be increased substantially to enable mothers to feed their children at a level which provides for their health, well-being and nutritional needs as a starting point: and that it should be further increased to allow mothers to support their children’s education requirements in relation to scholar

BP 429: Budget 2017-What are the Options for the Poor 3

1 Julian Filochowski: Oscar Romero – Option for the poor. Available at http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/themes/community-participation/stories/oscar-romero-option-poor/

2 Rob Rose (2017): Budget Analysis: Amid the tax pain, a political masterstroke by Gordhan. Available at https://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/fm-fox/2017-02-22-budget-analysis-amid-the-tax-pain-a-political-masterstroke-by-gordhan/

3 BusinessTech (2017): Budget 2017 in a nutshell. Available online at https://businesstech.co.za/news/finance/159593/budget-2017-in-a-nustshell/

4 Ibid

5 The African National Congress MPs on the Standing Committee on Appropriations, including the chairperson, all attended the roundtable.

6 PACSA (2017): Budget 2017 is not transformative. Media release, 22 February 2017.

7 Ibid

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transport, school clothes and shoes, stationery and books, and health care.

 The value of the CSG should be increased commensurately with age because, as children grow older, their nutritional and educational needs, and the cost of meeting these needs, increase.

 Pensions be increased to a living wage to allow pensioners and their families the possibility to live at a level of dignity, to absorb shocks, to build resilience, and to invest in the local economy.

 Pensioners, and CSG recipients, should receive a 13th cheque in December to absorb some of the financial, social and economic pressures which this period brings; and thereby enable families to start the new year in a better space due to better debt arrangements and being able to send children to school fully ready.

In Mr Abrahams’ view it was a welcome relief that Treasury did not increase Value Added Tax (VAT), which would have impacted far more negatively on the poor. It was, however, disappointing that company tax had stayed unchanged. Although in some respects the budget was ‘pro poor’, it was also clear that government was reluctant to tax big business. A view that emerged from the discussion at the roundtable was that no link had been established between reductions in the rate at which companies are taxed, and decrease in unemployment or in the number of social grant recipients. Company tax had fallen from 34.55% to 28% since 2012 in the hope that lower taxes would encourage companies to increase employment, pay better wages and increase investment. However, evidence suggests that this incentive has not yielded any significant returns. The promise of more jobs did not materialise, which ultimately lead to more people seeking financial relief through social grants.

Mr Viljoen was of the view that the budget could be considered as ‘for the poor’, given the increase in social grants, but that other budgetary decisions would negatively affect the poor more than they would middle and high income earners. For example, the rise in the fuel levy would impact on the poor more through higher travelling costs and food prices. Mr Viljoen shared the view of the participants that a truly ‘pro poor’ budget is only possible if new avenues for putting more money in the pockets of the poor can be found.

4. Conclusion

To respond to the needs of the poor a ‘pro poor’ budget cannot, in the words of Archbishop Romero ‘look at poverty from the outside, as if we’re looking at a fire; that’s not to opt for the poor, no matter how concerned we may be’. Although Budget 2017 is considered pro-poor, upon closer scrutiny it reveals that it is still looking from the outside in. The poor remain on the periphery. The Budget still does not respond adequately to the lived reality of poor South Africans.


Kenny Pasensie



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