Opinionista Bridget Masango 5 July 2018

Sassa’s new brooms don’t necessarily sweep clean

Following the disastrous start to the distribution of social grants this week, the DA (Democratic Alliance) visited a Sassa pay point at the Zolani Centre in Nyanga on Wednesday. I was joined by my colleague in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Thandi Mpambo-Sibukwana, and our party national spokesperson Solly Malatsi; as we engaged with beneficiaries it was heartbreaking to witness the fear and uncertainty in people who depend on these grants to put food on the table.

For the past two days, beneficiaries across the country have been turned away at pay points because of what Sassa and the South African Post Office call a “systems failure”. Can you imagine how harrowing it must be to walk for kilometres to reach a pay point, as many beneficiaries in rural areas do, only to be turned away and not told when to expect your payment?

For the majority of beneficiaries, grants are their only source of income and what these delays in payments mean is that people will literally go hungry for an indefinite period until they receive their money. This is a disgrace and it is inconsistent with who we are as a country that prides itself on caring for our most vulnerable citizens.

Many of the people who spoke to us told of how they have been sent from pillar to post by Sassa, describing how they were informed that they would not receive their grants until they had converted to the new Sassa card which is issued by PostBank. Elderly citizens told my colleagues and me of their distress as many of them look after their orphaned grandchildren and they have no idea how they will provide for them.

Others told of how they had loaned money from neighbours and mashonisas (loan sharks) in order to catch a taxi to the pay point in the hope that they would repay them when they have received their grants. They are now stranded and have accumulated mountains of debt.

To add to this, South Africans are now faced with yet another petrol and illuminating paraffin increase today which is going to raise the cost of living and will hit these grant beneficiaries the hardest.

During a meeting of the Standing Committee on Appropriations in May 2018, the DA proposed an increase to the Child Support Grant to a level which is in line with the “food poverty line”. This proposal involved 170 amendments to the Appropriations Bill and would have seen the grant go up to R441 per month. The ANC rejected this proposal. Their members on the committee remarked that an increase to the grant would “undermine humanity”. This was a rather bizarre statement, but considering this week’s events, it has become evident that the poor are the least of the ANC’s priorities.

The DA will not sit by and let these actions go unchallenged: 2.8-million South Africans rely on cash payments and a total of 17-million people receive social grants.

Today, Sassa is due to appear before the Social Development portfolio committee and I will use this opportunity to acquire answers on behalf of these beneficiaries and to make sure that plans are put in place to make sure we are not faced with this situation each month.

This latest Sassa fiasco is a very blatant example of how “new” brooms don’t necessarily sweep clean. Since taking office, Minister Susan Shabangu has consistently followed in the footsteps of her predecessor “Dodging Bathabile Dlamini” as she is absent from the discourse and is failing to provide leadership during this time of crisis. DM

Bridget Masango is DA Shadow Minister on Social Development

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