In rural Xhora in the Eastern Cape, reality bites the pockets of the poor
While Sassa has reassured grant recipients that it is ready for the October payment cycle without CPS, we bring you a report from Xhora, where some people used to be able to tell by the moon when the cash truck was due.
The Post Office and Sassa arrived today to do the cash pension payouts. We are apparently one of the test sites for their cash payout trucks. What a mess!
- Instead of visiting each village, like CPS did, they have now chosen one central location and expect the old and disabled people to walk up to 10km from the surrounding villages.
- Previously, the payment truck arrived religiously at 08:00 and everyone had received their money by 10:00 at the latest. Today at 13:00, not one person had received their money. Sassa officials were running around calling for people on different lists to stand in various rows when I left.
- Previously, all you needed to bring was your pension card and then your identity was verified by fingerprint. Today, everyone was informed that they would only get their money if they were carrying their ID. Loads of people who had walked for hours didn’t have their IDs and were turned away. I have never in 14 years seen people turned away from pension trucks before. It used to work like clockwork.
- Pensions are paid out here on the 13th of every month. Cunningly, Sassa/SAPO have made it possible for people to draw money on the 30th of the previous month if they go to the nearest town and draw at an ATM. So people received their cash payout on 13 August and then many went to town on the 30th to draw their next pension early. The cost to get to town is R80 return and it takes the whole day.The problem is now they are locked into going to town every month as none can wait six weeks until the 13th of October for their next pension to be brought to them (they have already received the pension they would get on September from the ATM on 30 August). So, effectively, the cost and inconvenience of distributing pensions to these old and disabled people has been shifted on to the beneficiaries themselves. This has created immense suffering that will now continue indefinitely as very poor people can’t wait six weeks to get back into the cash payment cycle.
- Because the pension payout points have been reduced by 90%, the local informal markets that formed around them have been decimated. Small business people who sold clothes, food, and other supplies have closed their businesses. Every pensioner and their families who does not get paid today will literally go hungry until the various problems are resolved. We are talking about people who typically run out of food a day or two before pension day – that’s how tight the budgets are of entire families who survive on R1,690 a month.
In summary, as one old man said to me today: “When things change, the new system should be an improvement. But this is so much worse. Why?”
The answer to that question, in my opinion, is that in unseemly haste to get rid of the obnoxiously-led but ultra-efficient CPS and to create a viable business model for the failing SA Post Office, we have now handed possibly our most critical monthly state function to a failing SoE that cannot possibly cope with such a complex task of delivering cash to millions of people in deep rural communities where there are no banks or shops. DM
Dave Martin is co-founder of the Bulungula Incubator, a rural development NGO. He has lived in the village of Nqileni since 2003.
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