17 million social grant recipients on Friday morning were finally put out of limbo when the Constitutional Court ruled that Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) will continue to pay South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) grants on 1 April. This until another entity is contracted to do so. In a much anticipated ruling, CPS’ contract was extended for 12 months, with the suspension of the invalidity of the contract extended.
Over the past few months, minister of social development, Bathabile Dlamini has been at the centre of the controversy, this following the Constitutional Court revoking SASSA’s request to have CPS’s contract renewed for one more year. The court ruled in 2013 that the contract between SASSA and CPS was illegal because of tender irregularities and ordered the minister to make alternate arrangements. Failing to do so, Dlamini instead sought to renew the contract.
The case came before the Concourt after civil society organizations, among them Black Sash and Freedom under Law, approached the court to ask it to intervene in the matter in order to ensure that grants will be paid come April the 1st. Secondly, the organizations called on the court to ensure that CPS does not abuse its position for the exploitation of grant recipients and thirdly, to ensure that CPS does not request exorbitant charges in its contract with SASSA.
But while things play out at in the political and legal arena, the fate of 17 million impoverished South Africans hung in the balance. Old-age grant recipients, who are already surviving from month to month, anxiously awaited the conclusion of the grant payout saga.
For them, it’s less about the politics and more about the economics. Last month, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced a nominal increase of R90 on pensioners, disability and care dependency grants. The old age grant will now increase to R1600 for pensioners over the age of 60, and R1620 for those over 75. Foster care grants went up by R30 to R920 a month and the child support grant increased by R20 to R380 a month. For some, these increases are not enough to survive as food, electricity and fuel prices mount.
Heideveld resident, 75-year-old Ishmael Daniels, says his grant is the only income that keeps his family of six afloat. While he is not completely satisfied with the R90 increase, he says it’s a ‘small relief.’
“The money is almost spent on the same day as we receive it; we have rent, food etcetera to pay. My son, who is a mechanic, and he may come with some money if he gets work – but we hope for the best.”
Commenting on the ‘tiresome’ medium through which pensioners are required to access their SASSA money, Daniels asserts that the system needs to be improved.
He says that in many instances, recipients have to periodically wait in limbo to know whether they will receive their grants.
“When you get to the till, then they say there is no money on the card. Then they say ‘you have to go back to SASSA, there is a problem with the card,” Daniels notes.
He says government has many problems and that he feels powerless as both a pensioner and a citizen to transform service delivery in the country.
Also weighing in on the SASSA debacle, old-age grant recipients Mohamed Sedick and Fozia Lenford explain that they too are unsure about whether or not they will be paid next month.
They note that while they have not experienced problems with the SASSA payment system, last year an unauthorized deduction of R300 was made from Fozia’s account.
Fozia says that despite having declared it the same day as the deduction came through, she has not been responded to nor has she been reimbursed.
“They say the people bought electricity on my name, but I received no response and I did not get my money back,” she says.
Elizabeth Malan uses her grant to take care of her six children. The 41-year-old says that the grant allows her to pay her bills each month, which unlike many families includes paying off her monthly layby charges on meat and other basic food items.
“There is a woman that sells meat items, and if we don’t get out to her I get a small job to by ingredients.”
Regarding problems with the system, Malan explains that last year a young boy stole her SASSA card and for nine months was unable to access her funds as she had lost her identity documents.
Given the fact that her children’s father is incarcerated; Malan was forced to rely on the support of her sisters during the period she was unable to access her funds.
The money she receives from SASSA Malan says, while being ‘better than nothing’, does not provide financial freedom to get the basic requirements to take care of children’s everyday needs or give them access to the simple pleasures in life.
“You can’t even layby a TV or a double bunk – the shops won’t allow you to layby.”
In her closing remarks, a tearful Malan in a mere few words said the only wish she has for her kids is “a brighter future.”