Social grants: Picketers want answers from SASSA as the April deadline looms

Picketers outside Portlands Indoor Sports Centre in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town. Pics: Chandre Appels

Scores of social grant beneficiaries left the Portlands Indoor Sport and Recreational Centre in Portlands, Mitchells Plain angry and disappointed having not received the correct grant amount owed to them.

Scores of social grant beneficiaries left the Portlands Indoor Sport and Recreational Centre in Portlands, Mitchells Plain angry and disappointed having not received the correct grant amount owed to them.

The contract between the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), which is responsible for administering and distributing social grant payments, comes to an end on 31 March 2017. This has caused great uncertainty for 17 million social grant beneficiaries as to whether they will still be receiving their grant money come 1 April 2017.

“The problem here is that on 1 April the government does not have a proper system in place to pay out grants. We feel that that is infringing on their human rights, their right to social security. The grants is the only poverty relief programme of government and there has been deductions over the past two years. So they’re stealing from the poor and come 1 April there’s no system in place. Which means that people might not even get money for food, for their livelihood and that is unacceptable for a government that says that they are a democratic people’s government,” said Vainola Makan from Right2Know.

The Right2Know Campaign is a movement centred on freedom of expression and access to information. The picket held at the centre is in support of the “Hands Off Our Grants” campaign. Outside a group of community members wore their ‘Right2Know” and “Hands Off Our Grants” t-shirts holding up placards expressing their messages of concern.

“Intecon just deducted a R1157,39. I now have to go search for Intecon. I have no money. I just got paid a R100. I was still looking forward to buying myself a nice fish and chips parcel once I received my money,” exclaimed Fawzia Kassiem, an angry pensioner from Beacon Valley upon exiting the sports centre.

“The more I ask her who Intecon is so that I can ask them I was told to go look in the phone book. I have nothing in my house. How am I going to get by now? Now my daughter has to take from her children’s money to give to me,” said Kassiem.*

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Kassiem* is one of many social grant beneficiaries who had unexplained deductions made to their grant money. A 28-year-old woman who joined the picket said that she has had her money “stolen” from her since September last year. “I don’t know how they do it without your card,” she added.

“A lot of loan and airtime deductions are being made. But people did not give their permission, that’s the problem. So there will be Intecon, there will be airtime. But then people don’t give permission and they will just see that there is a R400 or a R600 gone from their money. Millions of South Africans have experienced this over the past two years,” said Makan.

This is the second month that deductions have been made from Kassiem’s grant money. Last month they deducted a R1000 to pay back a loan that Kassiem made in January and now another R1157,39.  When she asked the woman assisting her with her money who Intecon is and why they deducted the amount she was told to look them up in the phone book.

“So the one problem is the deductions and the second problem, now which we are here for, after the 1st of April — ­what then? Government cannot say. Parliament has asked them to come the other day and explain and they could not even give parliament answers. The minister didn’t even come to the hearing. So that is the problem. It’s the second time that she did not come,” said Makan.

As the day went by more and more people joined the picket to express their frustrations and to seek advice.

Kassiem later went to Quickfin in the Town Centre where she took out a loan of R800 in January to find out if they have any connection to Intecon and was told that they do. She paid the loan in February and now only owed a R157. Quickfin deducted the same amount two months in a row leaving her with only R100. Two other woman waiting in line amongst the 20+ people queuing outside the Town Centre branch said that this had happened to them too and that they demand answers.

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The assistant told Kassiem to fetch the police before chasing her out of the store and refused to answer her queries. Kassiem was also unable to speak to the manager at the time.

“Where is my money? I paid them last month. They deducted the large sum last month, this month they only had to deduct a hundred and something rand. Where does she get all this money from? When I went to her now, her name is Widaad *, she told me to go fetch the police,” said Kassiem.
Worried about how she is going to make ends meet this month Kassiem tried to take a loan at OBC. It was denied because she only has R100 in her account.

“We are going to protest until 1 April to ensure that they put something in place,” said Makan.

The SASSA grant calamity threatens to be one of the biggest in democratic South Africa. Opposition parties in parliament have called for the resignation of Bathabile Dlamini, the Minister of Social Development. Recently the Director General resigned. The Constitutional Court has ruled the SASSA and CPS are under a constitutional obligation to continue to pay social grants on 1 April until another entity is able to do so. President Jacob Zuma will now lead and chair the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Comprehensive Social Security to ensure the Court order.

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