Maverick Citizen

FLAWED SYSTEM OP-ED

Time to bust the ghosts in the Social Relief of Distress grant machine

Time to bust the ghosts in the Social Relief of Distress grant machine
The South African Social Security Agency is responsible for administering social grants to millions of people each month. (Photo: capricornfm.co.za / Wikipedia)

Since the Social Relief of Distress grant was introduced in 2020, I’ve been helping people in the difficult process of registering with the South African Social Security Agency and appealing against rejections. I’ve written about the flawed system in the past, but since July this year, I’ve been noticing new, strange problems.

In about 20 instances, I’ve come across ghost accounts in the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) system, and even ghost bank accounts collecting Social Relief of Distress (SRD) payments. Here are two cases that will give you an idea of what’s been happening.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Social relief grant application process intensifies struggle to survive

An 18-year-old asked me for help applying for the SRD grant – it’s at this age that South Africans become eligible for this grant. When we applied on the Sassa system, we discovered that their application is already active. 

So who is collecting these payments?

We know of past cases where “ghost children” were registered by Sassa officials fraudulently for child grants – could the same thing be happening in the case of SRD grants? After all, Sassa officials would be well placed to identify people registered under the child support grant coming of age and eligible to apply for the SRD grant.

In another case, we discovered a ghost bank account. Another 18-year-old asked for assistance in applying, and again we discovered the Sassa account was already active. We asked for help from a Sassa official and discovered a different cellphone number was associated with the account. 

When we tried to query on the system using the teenager’s ID number and this unknown cellphone number, we found that payments were already being made into a TymeBank account in the teenager’s name – even though the person involved didn’t open that account. 

In another case, a Capitec bank account had been opened in someone else’s name, and SRD payments were being deposited into it. 

We know ghost bank accounts are not new to South Africa. The SRD grant was too little when it was introduced in 2020, and has stayed at the same amount, R350 a month, for over three years – even though food inflation is over 14%. The average cost of a household food basket is over R5,000 a month. 

As little as it is, it’s a lifeline for many people. If young people are being scammed out of money that could help them put food on the table, care for family and community, and search for work, it needs to be investigated urgently.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mr President: ‘Make a BIG flagship project and give us hope again’

Even without these ghost accounts, the grant system is troubled by all kinds of problems in the design and in how it’s being implemented. Right now, the Institute for Economic Justice is fighting Sassa in the courts about unfair exclusion because of means testing. 

It’s time to scrap means testing, uncomplicate the grant system and give people in South Africa – especially young people – the basic minimum they need to survive: a liveable, universal basic income. DM/MC

Israel Nkuna is a ward committee representative and community activist in Mahlathi Village, Limpopo.

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