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Sassa grants: ‘It mustn’t be an April Fools’ Joke’

As time runs out for Sassa, forgotten citizens continue to battle everyday challenges.

On a very hot summer afternoon in Johannesburg, 70-year-old Roselin Maseko is about to embark on a 4 kilometre walk to buy paraffin as her corrugated iron shack has sunk into darkness. 

Kliptown in Soweto has been without electricity for two days as the main substation blew up, leaving Maseko and thousands of residents in the informal settlement hamstrung. Without electricity, Maseko cannot cook for her two unemployed daughters and five grandchildren, who are all financially dependent on her. 

The search for paraffin is not only a grave inconvenience for her frail legs but also her wallet, as the pensioner is about to shell out R9 for a litre of paraffin, which she didn’t budget for. She relies on government’s monthly social grant payments for survival – receiving an old age grant of R1 510 and R1 800 in child support for her five grandchildren (R360 each) to supplement the household income. 

Maseko is oblivious to the fact that the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) has yet to seal a deal that will allow incumbent Net1’s subsidiary Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) or another player to carry on making payments to 17 million beneficiaries come April 1. Government officials still cannot explain how grants will be distributed.

“If we don’t get our grant we would be deep in poverty. It would be like the old days of apartheid when the government would skip grant payments for many months. Life in Kliptown is already bad,” says Maseko, a former domestic worker who has been retired since 2008.

Kliptown is one of Soweto’s oldest townships and played a key role in SA’s transition into democracy, as the Freedom Charter was signed in the area in 1955. What stands today are dilapidated and abandoned buildings that are reminiscent of a once-thriving retail district that supported neighbouring townships such as Diepkloof, Pimville and Orlando.

With a population of 7 458, according to the 2011 census, Kliptown’s unemployment rate is more than 60% (as claimed by residents). Most senior citizens are retired from their jobs as domestic and factory workers while the young loiter on streets or search for menial work.

Three blocks from Maseko’s home, 69-year-old MaDlamini is confident that she will receive her payout. “The government would never make that mistake of not paying us. It mustn’t be an April Fools’ Joke. There would be a lot of violence if we are not paid,” she says. MaDlamini supports 26 grandchildren on her old age grant, and only receives a child support grant for three of her grandchildren. Most of their parents have passed away. Other grandchildren are unemployed or over the age of 18 and don’t qualify for the grant.

“The grant money only lasts for three days. Sometimes you find that there is no food in the house.” The lion’s share of MaDlamini’s grant payments is dedicated to funeral policies, which she deems as important.  “What will happen if I die? I want to make sure that my family doesn’t suffer from funeral costs.”

Using Statistics SA and Sassa data, research firm Capital Economics estimates that more than 45% of households receive social grants and a disruption in grant payments is expected to reduce consumption by 0.4 percentage points of SA’s gross domestic product per month. This is based on the economy’s reliance on consumer spending in light of a low household saving rate.

Social grant increase

On the other side of Soweto in Orlando East, sisters Nellie Ngobese (87) and Agnes Ncongwane (86) are not concerned about on-going Sassa contract negotiations and look forward to social grant increases. As of April 1, the old age grant will increase by R90 to R1 600 for pensioners over the age of 60 and R1 620 for those over 75; the child support grant will increase by R20 to R380; the disability and care dependency grant will increase by R90 to R1 600 and the foster care grant will increase by R30 to R920.

“Even with these increases, we don’t believe that this grant money is helping us as it’s too little. If you look at the prices of food, they keep rising,” says Ngobese.  

Ncongwane agrees with Ngobese, saying that their payouts are reduced by unauthorised deductions, estimated to be R200 in some cases. Human rights organisation The Black Sash has documented many complaints of unauthorised deductions from Sassa beneficiaries’ accounts for loan repayments, airtime, water and even electricity – allegedly sold by other Net1 subsidiaries using the confidential information given to CPS.

For now, Ncongwane says the most vulnerable citizens are forgotten. “We are constantly put on the side. As old people, we are the ones who worked for the country’s democracy. I don’t see a change at all in this country, it’s getting worse even in a democracy.”

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The sense of entitlement of these people is truly awesome.

It is very difficult for the poor to extricate themselves from the “sense of entitlement”. It has always been the way to provide for their old age by having large and “extended” families. In this day and age, it won’t or doesn’t work. The traditional customs like going to funerals in one’s “home areas” will simply have to be curtailed. @Wendy Webb, I have to agree with you. The daughters must get off their bums and assist.

the loyalty of these people to an absolutely corrupt and incompetent party is truly awesome.

My first thought upon reading this is why is a 70 year old walking 4 kilometers for paraffin when she has 2 unemployed daughters who could do the walking?

It makes for a better headline if a 70 year old walks the 4 kilometers rather than a couple of idle children.

The irony is that this fact is SHAMELESSLY true!

1 April will be a big surprise for these people and maybe a wake up call that this ANC thing is not such a good idea.

If we are to see active change in the running of our state, let us remove these fat, sluggish ministers in our government. We need speed of action in service delivery. Where in the world have you seen obese, tired mamas holding high office? Where,where???? I am sorry I might come out as crude. That is where are our problems come from. “Too fat to manage, to slow to act”. Have you ever wondered how long it takes them get out of their cars, how long it takes them to go up a flight of stairs. How long it takes them to walk down the passage to their DG’s office… Now how long will it take them to make a decision as to what is right for our country grant recipients?????

The reality is that while I could almost understand the need for an old age grant, the fact that there is then multiple young and abled persons sponging on this old woman and them also having children and putting this burden also on the old woman is absolutely deplorable. This story which might seem sad for leftists, actually infuriates me as a conservative. This is only one example of many where we through poor socialist policies and propaganda have convinced people that somehow society owes them and that they should not have to make a honest respectable living, because don’t worry the government (in other words the honest working people who do not receive services) will always care for you and allow you to sit around the entire day and do absolutely nothing with your life as long as you continue to have children year after year.

The very thing that many people feared before 1992 is slowly coming to fruition, that a communist government would take hold and destroy everything that was built and leave the country in ruins, and this all in the name of “freedom” and “democracy”.

Problem is try to explain ” a communist government “, or socialist programs to the illiterate. Come next election they will just X the face they know.

Yet again for publicity only, the true fact is that the government is incompetent.

They are NOT forgotten citizens. They get BILLIONS of Rands and a mega hoo-haa about possible late payment.

This headline is click-bait, tear jerker, irresponsible journalism, particularly for a financial publication.

Shame on MW for allowing this.

There must be a million ideas floating around that can help these people. IDC/PIC and co are all handing out cash to black industrialists, why don’t these guys open up a factory in these poor areas and try to competitively manufactor something, capex is basically free from the development finance institutions so I really don’t get it. Maybe this is happening and we are not aware but if Gov removes some red tape, makes capital available and make sure locals partner with some experienced folk then there is a market there surely.

Never going to happen, most will just not give up free money for a work. The situation is that a lazy society has been created, as to “all demands a job, but nobody wants to work”, and that you only get working in government.

Mr Mark Barnes says that SAPO will distribute the grants. When last was he in a Post Office. They are all dilapidated, overrun by bums, hobo’s and most of them don’t have power or ink to print a document. FUBAR, just like the rest of the government departments .

Instead of SASSA, it should be called the Grants for Votes Program.

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