Unpacking the Issue of Progressive Realisation of the Basic Income Grant: A South African Perspective





basic income grant, social security, social assistance, poverty, inequality, COVID-19 social relief of distress grant


This article examines the issue of progressive realisation of the Basic Income Grant (‘BIG’) in South Africa. The article locates the BIG within the broader framework of the specific provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) that pertain to the protection of the socio-economic right to access social security, including, appropriate social assistance. The article investigates the competence, flaws, challenges and prospects of these provisions related to the protection of and access to appropriate social assistance for all. It recognises the polarity of the current social security system in general, and the inequitable social assistance model. Furthermore, this article evaluates whether South Africa is progressively realising the ideals encapsulated under the BIG.


Metrics Loading ...


Barchiesi F, ‘South African Debates on the Basic Income Grant: Wage Labour and the Post-apartheid Social Policy’ (2007) 33(3) Journal of Southern African Studies <https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070701475575>

Bernstein A, ‘Poverty and Basic Income Grant – Six questions about BIG’ Centre for Development and Enterprise’ 2022 < https://www.cde.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/BIG-full-report-pdf.pdf> accessed 7 September 2023.

Cloete A and others, ‘… It is Like It Has Come Up and Stole Our Lives from Us the First 21 Days: A Rapid Qualitative Assessment of How Different Sectors of Society Experienced the COVID-19 Lockdown in South Africa.’ 2021 4 Social Sciences and Humanities Open <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssaho.2021.100167>

Currie I and De Waal J, The Bill of Rights Handbook (Juta 2013).

Cowling N, ‘Number of People Living in Extreme Poverty in South Africa 2016–2030’ (2023) <https://www.statista.com/statistics/1263290/number-of-people-living-in-extreme-poverty-in-south-africa> accessed 15 November 2023.

De Wispelaere J and Morales L, ‘Emergency Basic Income During the Pandemic’ 2021 43(4) https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963180120000808>

De Wispelaere J and Stirton L, ‘The Many Faces of Universal Basic Income’ 2004 75(3) The Political Quarterly <https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-923X.2004.00611.x>

Department of Social Development, Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa Transforming the Present - Protecting the Future (2002) accessed 7 September 2023.

Dikoko V and Archer J, ‘47% of South Africans Rely on Social Grants – Study Reveals How They Use Them to Generate More Income’ The Conversation (3 May 2023) https://theconversation.com/47-of-south-africans-rely-on-social-grants-study-reveals-how-they-use-them-to-generate-more-income-203691> accessed 7 September 2023.

Fransman T and Yu D, ‘Multidimensional Poverty in South Africa in 2001–16’ 2019 36(1) Development Southern Africa <https://doi.org/10.1080/0376835X.2018.1469971>

Franzoni JM and Sánchez-Ancochea D, The Quest for Universal Social Policy in the South. Actors, Ideas, and Architectures (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 2016).

Gentilini U and others, ‘Overview: Exploring Universal Basic Income’ in Gentilini U and others, Exploring Universal Basic Income – A Guide to Navigating Concepts, Evidence and Practices (Washington DC, World Bank Publications 2020) <https://doi.org/10.1596/978-1-4648-1458-7>

Goldman M and others, ‘Simulation of Options to Replace the Special COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant and Close the Poverty Gap at the Food Poverty Line’ UNU-WIDER policy paper (2021) 165. <https://www.wider.unu.edu/sites/default/files/Publications/Working-paper/PDF/wp2021165-simulation-options-replace-special-COVID-19-SRD-grant-close-poverty-gap-foodpoverty-line.pdf>accessed 7 September 2023 <https://doi.org/10.35188/UNU-WIDER/2021/105-1>

Garnham A, ‘The Problem with Means-Testing’ (November 2019) Child Poverty Action Group <https://cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/policypost/The%20problem%20with%20means-testing%20-%20FINAL.pdf> accessed 17 January 2023.

Hart, T and others, ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic Reveals an Unprecedented Rise in Hunger: The South African Government was Ill-Prepared to Meet the Challenge’ (2022) Scientific African <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sciaf.2022.e01169>

ILO, ‘A Social Protection Floor for All’ (2020) accessed 24 January 2023.

Institute for Economic Justice, ‘Joint PStatement, IEJ and #PayTheGrants Go to Court to Challenge the Unfair Exclusion of Millions from SRD Grant’ <https://www.iej.org.za/jointstatement-iej-ptg-seri_srd-court-case>accessed 8 September 2023.

Institute for Economic for Economic Justice ‘Designing a Basic Income Guarantee: Targeting, Universality and other Considerations’ (October 2021) Social Protection Series Policy Brief < https://www.iej.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/IEJ-policy-briefUBIG-3_2.pdf> accessed 24 January 2023.

International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, ‘Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa: An Assessment of Drivers, Constraints and Opportunities.’ (2018) <http://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/530481521735906534/pdf/Overcoming-Poverty-and-Inequality-in-South-Africa-An-Assessment-of-Drivers-Constraints-and-Opportunities.pdf >accessed 26 November 2022.

Institute for Economic Justice, ‘Joint Press Statement, IEJ and #PayTheGrants Go to Court to Challenge the Unfair Exclusion of Millions From SRD Grant’ <https://www.iej.org.za/joint-statement-iej-ptg-seri_srd-courtcase> accessed 8 September 2023.

Jansen van Rensburg L and Lamarche L, ‘The Right to Social Security and Assistance’ in Brand D and Heyns C (eds), Socio-Economic Rights in South Africa (PULP 2005).

Köhler T and others, ‘Lockdown Stringency and Employment Formality: Evidence From the Covid-19 Pandemic in South Africa’ (2023) 57(3) Journal for Labour Market Research <https://doi.org/10.1186/s12651-022-00329-0>

Lishivha WM, ‘Introducing the Universal Basic Income Grant in South Africa’ Mail& Guardian (9 December 2022) <https://mg.co.za/special-reports/2022-12-09-introducing-theuniversal-basic-income-grant-in-south-africa> accessed 17 January 2023.

Liebenberg S, ‘The Interpretation of Socio-Economic Rights’ in S Woolman and M Bishop (eds), Constitutional Law of South Africa (Juta 2012).

Marais H,. In the Balance: The Case for a Universal Basic Income in South Africa and Beyond (Wits University Press 2022) <https://doi.org/10.18772/12022077724>

McKay S, ‘Poverty or Preference: What do ‘Consensual Deprivation Indicators’ Really Measure?’ Fiscal Studies 25(2) <https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-5890.2004.tb00102.x>

Mbunge E, ‘Effects of COVID-19 in South African Health System and Society: An Explanatory Study’ Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews (2020) <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2020.09.016>

Mokofe M, ‘From Precarity to Pandemic: How the Covid-19 Pandemic Exacerbated Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality in South Africa’ Law (2022) 26(15).Democracy and Development

Motha S, ‘Basic Income May Not See the Light of Day until Funding is Resolved.’ Sunday World (15 January 2023) <https://sundayworld.co.za/politics/basic-income-grantmay-not-see-the-light-of-day-until-funding-is-resolved>accessed 17 January 2023.

Mpedi LG, ‘Law and Social Policy in South Africa: From Untold Suffering and Injustice to a Future Based on Human Rights’ in Davy, U and Chen AHY (eds), Law and Social Policy in the Global South: Brazil, China, India, South Africa (Routledge 2023) <https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003242826-5>

Mubangizi J and Mubangizi B, ‘Poverty, Human Rights Law and Socio-economic Realities in South Africa’ Development Southern Africa (2005) 22(2) <https://doi.org/10.1080/03768350500163311>

Mubangizi J, ‘Poor Lives Matter: COVID-19 and the Plight of Vulnerable Groups With Specific Reference to Poverty and Inequality’ (2021) South Africa’ Journal of African Law 65(2) <https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021855321000292>

Minister of Finance, ‘Budget Speech’ (22 February 2023) 16 <https://www.treasury.gov.za/documents/National%20Budget/2023/speech/speech.pdf> accessed 8 September 2023.

Nhede N and Marumahoko S, ‘Redesigning Social Security Systems in Some Selected Sub-Saharan African Countries’ (2023) African Journal of Governance and Development 12(1) <https://doi.org/10.36369/2616-9045/2023/v12i1a5>

Olivier M, Smit N and Kalula E, Social Security- A Legal Analysis (LexisNexis Butterworths 2003).

Padley M and Davis A, ‘Applying the Minimum Income Standard in Diverse National Contexts’ in Deeming C (ed), Minimum Income Standards and Reference Budgets Research: International and Comparative Policy Perspectives (Bristol, Policy Press X-Y 2019) <https://doi.org/10.1332/policypress/9781447352952.003.0017>

Patel L, ‘Social Work and Social Development Challenges to the COVID-19 Pandemic’ in Tan NT and Shajahan (eds), Remaking Social Work for the New Global Era. (United Kingdom, Springer 2022) <https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-08352-5_2>

Patel L, Dikoko W and Archer J, ‘Social Grants, Livelihoods and Poverty Responses of Social Grant Beneficiaries in South Africa’ (University of Johannesburg, Centre for Development in Africa 2023) < https://www.uj.ac.za/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/csda-_-social-grants-livelihood-_-research-brief-_-a4-_-jan-2023_5-1.pdf> accessed 7 September 2023.

Rapatsa M, ‘Social Identity and Social Exclusivity: South Africa’s Middle-class Strata in a Perpetual Struggle for Integration’ 2022 9(2) Social Sciences and Education Research Review.

Ravallion M ‘Poverty Lines in Theory and Practice’ Living Standards Measurement Study’, (1998) Working paper No 133 <https://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/916871468766156239/pdf/multi-page.pdf>accessed 17 January 2023.

Roederer C, ‘Founding Provisions’ in S Woolman and M Bishop (eds), Constitutional Law of South Africa (Juta 2012).

Sadiq K and Du Preez H, ‘The Case for a Universal Basic Income Grant in South Africa: A Conceptual Approach’ (2021) 35(3) South African Journal of Accounting Research <https://doi.org/10.1080/10291954.2020.1735685>

Schotte S and Zizzamia R, ‘The Livelihood Impacts of COVID-19 in Urban South Africa: A View from Below’ (2023) Social Indicators Research <https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-022-02978-7>

Shahidi F and others, ‘The Impact of Social Assistance Programs on Population Health: A Systematic Review of Research in High-income Countries’ 2019 19(2) BMC Public Health <https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-6337-1>

South African Social Security Agency, ‘Annual report 2021/22’ <https://www.sassa.gov.za/annual%20reports/Documents/SASSA%20ANNUAL%20REPOR T%202021-2022.pdf> accessed 23 August 2023.

Seeking J, ‘Poverty, Inequality and Policy in Southern Africa’ Italian Institute for International Political Studies<https://www.ispionline.it/en/publication/poverty-inequality-and-policy-in-southern-africa-137869> accessed 7 September 2023.

Smit S, ‘A Big Deal: Universal Income Support Could Resuscitate South Africa’s Economy – Report’ Mail & Guardian (28 Jan 2022) < https://mg.co.za/business/2022-01-28a-big-deal-universal-income-support-could-resuscitate-south-africas-economy-report> accessed 2 February 2023.

Standing G, Basic Income: A Guide for the Open-minded (Yale University Press 2017) <https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1bvnf53>

Standing G, ‘How Cash Transfers Promote the Case for Basic Income’ (2008) 3(1) Basic Income Studies.

Standing G, ‘India’s Experiment in Basic Income Grants’ (2013) 3(5) Global Dialogue.

Standing G and Samson M, A Basic Income Grant for South Africa (University of Cape Town Press 2003) <https://doi.org/10.2202/1932-0183.1106>

Statistics South Africa, ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Country Report’ (2019) <http://www.statssa.gov.za/MDG/SDGs_Country_Report_2019_South_Africa.pdf>accessed 23 August 2023.

Statistics South Africa, ‘Quarterly Labour Force Survey Q2:2023’ (2023) <https://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0211/P02112ndQuarter2023.pdf>accessed 23 August 2023.

Statistics South Africa, ‘National Poverty Lines’ (2023) <https://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P03101/P031012023.pdf> accessed 7 September 2023.

Statistics South Africa, ‘National Poverty Lines 2021’<https://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P03101/P031012021.pdf> accessed 7 September 2023

Statistics South Africa, ‘The South African MPI: Creating a Multidimensional Poverty Index Using Census Data’ (2014) 2–3<https://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/Report-03-10-08/Report-03-10-082014.pdf> accessed 17 January 2023.

South African Social Security Agency, Annual Performance Plan 2022-2023’ <https://static.pmg.org.za/SASSA_2022-23_Annual_Performance> accessed 7 September 2023.

Thimmappa L and others, ‘Protocol: The Effectiveness of Social Protection Interventions in Low and Middle Income Countries: An Evidence and Gap Map.’ (2021) 17(3) Campbell Systematic Review <https://doi.org/10.1002/cl2.1160>

Torry M, Basic Income: A History Edward (Elgar Publishing 2021) <https://doi.org/10.4337/9781839102417>

Tshoose C, ‘Appraisal of Selected Themes on the Impact of International Standards on Labour and Social Security Law in South Africa’ (2022) 25(1) Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal <https://doi.org/10.17159/1727-3781/2022/v25i0a11969>

Tshoose C and Ndlovu L, ‘COVID-19 and Employment Law in South Africa: Comparative Perspectives on Selected Themes’ (2021) 33(1) South African Mercantile Law Journal <https://doi.org/10.47348/SAMLJ/v33/i1a2>

Tshoose C, ‘Social assistance Legal Reforms to Improve Coverage and Quality of Life for the Poor People in South Africa’ (unpublished LLD thesis, University of South Africa 2017)

Tshoose C, ‘Dynamics of Public Participation in Local Government: A South Africa (2015) 8(2) Perspective’ African Journal of Public Affairs.

United Nations, ‘The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action: World Summit for Social Development’ (6–12 March 1995, New York).

United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, 20–22 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro< <https://www.un.org/en/conferences/environment/rio2012> accessed 24 January 2023

United Nations, ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (A/HRC/35/26)’ (2017) Human Rights Council, Geneva

<https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1298742?ln=en> accessed 24 January 2023.

Van der Berg S, ‘South African Social Security under Apartheid and Beyond’ 1997 14(4) Development Southern Africa <https://doi.org/10.1080/03768359708439982>

Van Parijs P, ‘Competing Justification for Unconditional Basic Income’ in Van Parijs, P, Arguing for Basic Income: Ethical Foundations for a Radical Reform (Verso 1992)

Van Parijs P, ‘Basic Income: A Simple and Powerful Idea for the Twenty-first Century’ (2004) 32(1) Politics & Society <https://doi.org/10.1177/0032329203261095>

Vanleeuw L; Zembe-Mkabile W and Atkins S, ‘Falling Through the Cracks: Increased Vulnerability and Limited Social Assistance for TB Patients and Their Households During COVID-19 in Cape Town, South Africa’ (2022) 2(7) PLOS Glob Public Health <https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgph.0000708>

Vonk G and Olivier M, ‘The Fundamental Right of Social Assistance: A Global, a Regional (Europe and Africa) and a National Perspective (Germany, the Netherlands and South Africa)’ (2019) European Journal of Social Security <https://doi.org/10.1177/1388262719867337>

Winchester M, King B and Rishworth A, ‘It’s Not Enough: Local Experiences of Social Grants, Economic Precarity, and Health Inequity in Mpumalanga, South Africa’ (2021) Wellbeing, Space and Society <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wss.2021.100044>

Woolman S and Botha H, ‘Limitations’ in Woolman S and Bishop M (eds), Constitutional law of South Africa (Juta 2012).

World Bank, ‘Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa’ (2018) <https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/530481521735906534/pdf/Overcoming- Poverty-and-Inequality-in-South-Africa-An-Assessment-of-Drivers-Constraints-and- Opportunities.pdf> accessed 24 January 2023.

World Bank, ‘Social Protection Systems Help Poor and Vulnerable People Cope with Crises and Shocks, Find Jobs, Invest in the Health and Education of Their Children, and Protect the Aging Population’ (2023) <https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/socialprotection/overview> accessed 24 January 2023.

World Bank, ‘Inequality in Southern Africa: An Assessment of the Southern African Customs Union’ (2022) <https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/099125303072236903/pdf/P1649270c02a1f06b0a3ae02e57eadd7a82.pdf> accessed 24 January 2023.

Young S, ‘Universal Basic Income’ in Mitchell K and Pallister-Wilkins P (eds), The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Philanthropy and Humanitarianism (Routledge 2023) <https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003162711-5>


Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v Grootboom and Others 2001 (1) SA 46 (CC).

Khosa and Others v Minister of Social Development; Mahlaule and Others v Minister of Social Development and Others 2004 (6) SA 505 (CC).

Mahlangu and Another v Minister of Labour and Others 2021 (1) BCLR 123.

Minister of Health and Others v Treatment Action Campaign and Others 2002 (5) SA 721 (CC).

Residents of Joe Slovo Community, Western Cape v Thubelisha Homes 2010 (3) SA 454 (CC).

Scalabrini and Another v Minister of Social Development and Others [2020] JOL 48057 (GP) unreported.

Soobramoney v Minister of Health, Kwazulu-Natal 1998 (1) SA 765 (CC).


Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

Regulations relating to COVID-19 social relief of distress (GNR.2042 OF 2022 in GG 46271).

Social Assistance Act 13 of 2004.

White Paper for Social Welfare, 1997.



How to Cite

Tshoose, Itumeleng Clarence, and Mokgwati Justice Kgaphola. 2023. “Unpacking the Issue of Progressive Realisation of the Basic Income Grant: A South African Perspective”. Southern African Public Law 38 (2):30 pages. https://doi.org/10.25159/2522-6800/15384.