Making the poor poorer – how a third of the poorest households in the Eastern Cape disappeared

Issued by Retief Odendaal, MPL
Shadow MEC for Finance

Eastern Cape municipalities have slashed 360 000 indigent households from their books, not because the poor have become less poor, but because municipalities failed to provide assistance during the greatest time of need.

Shocking statistics show a massive decrease in the number of recognized indigent households in the province between 2017 and 2021, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has caused massive economic hardships. Unemployment in the province surged from 32.7% in 2017 to a staggering 45% last year.

The inability of Eastern Cape municipalities to facilitate the yearly registration of indigent households during the Covid-19 pandemic has led to thousands of indigent households being unable to apply or reapply for these basic services, depriving the poor of this much-needed lifeline.

Government is legally obligated to provide basic services at no charge to registered indigents within respective municipal boundaries. The cost for these basic services, which include water, electricity, sanitation and waste removal, is offset by the equitable share funding provided by National Government to municipalities.

During the 2017/18 financial year, the province registered a total of 986 403 indigent households in need of free basic services. Three years later, in the 2020/21 financial year, there were only 623 713 indigent households registered.

Although registered, in 2017/18 more than half of these households did not receive the services they were entitled to. Only 417 184 households received free basic water, while 361 051 households received free basic sanitation services.

The drastic cut in registered households did little to improve the delivery of services to indigent households. In fact, there was a significant decline in services provided in 2020/21. Municipalities only managed to provide 296 022 households with free basic water, while 278 482 households received free basic sanitation services.

Download response

Instead of ensuring that municipal policies and procedures were adapted to respond to the pandemic, the Eastern Cape government chose to turn their back on thousands of poor households across the province.

The Democratic Alliance will be tabling solutions to streamline and simplify bureaucratic processes in respect of the registration of indigent households applying for free basic services in the respective Eastern Cape Councils.

We will continue our fight to ensure that all poor and vulnerable households have fair access to basic services by government.

While an unresponsive ANC government in the Eastern Cape seems dead set on making the poor poorer, the DA will continue to hold our municipalities to account so that the most vulnerable amongst us are not deprived of basic services due to bureaucratic processes.