Karabo Ozah, Director of the Centre for Child Law (CCL) in the Faculty of Law (UP) at the University of Pretoria (UP), is playing a vital role in urging the South African government to drastically increase their social safety net interventions.
The national COVID-19 lockdown, which was implemented on 26 March 2020, and still at Level 1, has lasted for more than half a year and resulted in huge job losses and a massive increase in the number of vulnerable people depending on government for the bare minimum in an attempt to survive. Even worse, the destitute are not experiencing economical poverty only, but also social poverty, which are accompanied by an ever-increasing suffocating effect on human lives in South Africa.
On 15 September 2020, Ozah participated in a webinar by the National Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS), jointly hosted by the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the University of Pretoria (UP). The webinar focused on the reinforcement of the social welfare nets that are currently in place in South Africa. Titled ‘Public Safety Nets to Curb Impacts of Pandemics on the Vulnerable’, the webinar compared the South African social welfare system before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this webinar Ozah argued that ‘The already gaping holes in South Africa’s safety nets were cruelly exposed during lockdown’. She said that ‘among other shortcomings, the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) was suspended, immediately denying millions of children of meals. There were delays in administering new applications for the relief grants that the state rolled out. To make matters worse, no new applications for the Disability Grant were accepted for some time. But even before COVID-19, and for all government’s good work during it, the social safety nets that were in place were already falling short of objectives to radically address poverty in South Africa.’
Ozah further indicated that ‘government had staged some interventions to help the most vulnerable, but there were still families that had not received anything after many months’. She added that ‘children and adults with disabilities were still not being prioritised for grant assistance. Even now, post hard lockdown, who is taking steps to prioritise and make sure that there is a fast-track process for considering those applications? I do not think it is being done. Government needs to realise that our obligation to the most vulnerable must be prioritised.’
Ozah expressed grave concern ‘that during lockdown, the most vulnerable became even more vulnerable. Obviously we know that there had been some government responses trying to introduce the temporary grants, and a temporary increase in child support grants after lobbying from a lot of NGOs in the country.’ She gratefully acknowledged the government’s grant of R350 per child, but reiterated that it was not sufficient, and again appealed to government to prioritise their assistance to the poorest of the poor. Ozah noted government's COVID-19 relief grant of R350 and said that “It is not nothing, but not sufficient. There is quite a lot that needed to be done. And government can do quite a lot if they want to.”
The lockdown has had numerous consequences, the most serious of which has been the growing number of starving people in South Africa. As many industries had to shut down, people already living on the breadline had no wages nor savings to rely on. In addition, the closing of schools resulted in approximately nine million children not receiving a daily meal through the school feeding scheme. Recent research conducted by Ask Afrika estimates that one in three adults in South Africa go to bed hungry. The downturn in economic activities and capacity by far outweighs relief available.
Ozah has dedicated her legal career to using the law to make a difference, in particular to ensure that children's constitutional rights are advanced and protected.