“If they cut this money I’m going to get sick while I’m still young”

The Department of Social Development (DSD) and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) have just a few weeks to resolve an impending crisis that could see 17 million South Africans go without social welfare assistance. But many of those who would be directly affected remain in the dark.

The public debacle has highlighted the disarray in which the department of social development finds itself. Social development minister Bathabile Dlamini had a combative press conference on Sunday and was called to present herself to Parliament’s Standing Committee On Public Accounts on Tuesday. The department’s director-general Zane Dangor resigned suddenly last week, and Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza has taken sick leave.

Sassa has confirmed that it doesn’t know how it will pay out social grants next month. Its current contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) which was deemed unlawful by the Constitutional Court, is set to end on 31 March 2017. Sassa said it has not found another service provider and that there are no other service providers with the infrastructure to take over from CPS. It’s still unclear how exactly the agency plans to resolve the situation.

What’s also unclear is how well the department has communicated with grant recipients on the matter. There does not appear to have been any concerted effort made to reach out to grantees concerning any potential hiccups come April 1.

The Daily Vox spoke to two women who rely on social grants to support their families. They both described their perception of the Sassa debacle as chaotic, which is only the tip of the iceberg.

Mpho Moetsi, 35, is the mother of two children, aged five and nine. She earns R2 900 a month from her job as a cleaner in Rosebank. She uses the R350 child support grant she receives from Sassa to pay for her nine-year-old’s school fees. A portion of this is sent to her sister, who cares for her five-year-old, in rural Limpopo. She uses her salary to buy food and cover other household expenses.

Moetsi is largely unaware of what is currently happening at Sassa and how it could affect her. She doesn’t follow the news closely. What little she’s heard comes from television and from radio stations like Ukhozi FM. “I just heard that there’s conflict,” she said.

“I’m not sure what they were saying. What I heard about it [was] that those people from Sassa are stopping at the end of March and then on the first of April someone else is coming in.” Moetsi heard that grant recipients will be getting more money next month. “I don’t know this story about people not getting paid next month,” she said.

Moetsi has received a child support grant since 2012, when she went to get a birth certificate for her firstborn. She withdraws her grant at an ATM and has always been paid on time.

“As for the way they are doing things and not being honest, it hurts me because this money is what helps us,” Moetsi told The Daily Vox.

Florence Mahlangu, 40, is a mother of two boys, aged nine and 14. She lives in KwaNdebele, a former Bantustan in Mpumalanga. “I don’t know really well but I’ve heard about it,” said Mahlangu of the social grants crisis. What little she knows has been gleaned from talk among people in her community. “I’ve heard them talking about Sassa, saying that they’re going to cut the payouts. There’s a lot that they’re talking about.”

Mahlangu used to work at “an Indian’s cornershop” until she was retrenched at the end of 2016. She used to earn R500 a month. Now all she has left to look after her sons is the R700 she receives from the social grants programme. Mahlangu collects her monthly assistance at Shoprite or withdraws it at an ATM.

Other than this, Mahlangu has very little social support. Her parents have passed away and her siblings are in similarly precarious financial positions. “I’m in a bad situation here at home,” she said. Mahlangu’s husband is a plumber’s assistant. “He doesn’t have enough of a proper job where I can afford to ask him [for money],” she explained. The only thing he can afford to do for their children is buy them some clothes on Christmas.

Mahlangu spends most of the grant money on school fees. The rest is used to supplement to family’s grocery bill.

If Sassa fails to pay out next month, the family is in danger of going without sufficient food for the month. “What am I going to eat because I’m dependent on [social assistance]? I think that I will die from hunger next month because I’m very dependent on that money.” As it is, Mahlangu is under a great deal of stress.

“If they cut this money I’m going to get sick while I’m still young.”

Sassa insists that payments will be made as usual despite the controversy over the CPS contract,
and even deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has given assurances that grants will be paid.

If they aren’t, Sassa will have a lot of explaining to do.

The minister finally made her appearance before the Standing Committee On Public Accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday. Dlamini avoided answering the the commitee’s questions directly. Scopa has resolved to meet with Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan next week Tuesday to account for Treasury’s role in the Sassa crisis.

Featured image via Flickr

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