Wednesday, January 17, 2024

South Africa: Who’s exploiting who?

 A total of 28-million South African citizens, or 47% of the population, rely on social grants. [welfare payments].

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa hailed the governing party’s efforts to “tackle poverty head on”.

He was referring to the monthly R350 social relief of distress grant government introduced in 2020 which about 10-million people receive and other social grants such as old age pension and child support grants from which 18-million people benefit.

He said the party’s approach to tackling poverty has been two-pronged: “First through the social wage, which involves a range of social and economic interventions, including expanding access to quality basic services, and second through direct transfers to households in the form of social grants.

This year South Africans will head to the polls to vote for national and provincial governments.

As part of campaigning, a week ago Ramaphosa threatened that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme ) and social grants were likely to disappear should the ruling party lose power. He was lambasted for using scare tactics as part of electioneering.’

And in a social system where ‘can’t pay, can’t have’ is built in, those without will always find ways to try and get what the minority elite as got even if it means hurting other members of their class.

An unemployed teacher from Daveyton in Benoni, was receiving the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant each month since it was introduced during the Covid lockdown in 2020.

But in January 2023 he got an SMS from the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) alerting him that his cellphone number had been changed. He did not receive another grant payment again after this.

He has tried several times to report the fraud to Sassa via email. Each time, he is told that his case has been escalated. A year later, he still hasn't been helped. He is one of many people who complained to GroundUp in recent weeks about being defrauded and blocked from receiving the grant.

Elizabeth Raiters, who heads up the social grant help desk at PayTheGrants– a campaign focused on creating universal income security and which helps people find correct information on the SRD grant – says she has received hundreds of similar complaints from people across the country.

Raiters says Sassa's response to reports of unauthorised cellphone number changes has been to prohibit recipients from changing their numbers online. Recipients have to phone Sassa's help desk. They are then sent a one-time PIN to the cell number currently registered on the Sassa system to authorise the change. But for beneficiaries such as Nxumalo who have had their cellphone numbers taken over by possible fraudsters, this process is futile.

Raiters says, in addition to the unauthorised cellphone number changes, PayTheGrants has received complaints from several new applicants for the R350 grant who turned 18 in 2023 and discovered that their ID numbers were already being used to receive the grant, preventing them from accessing the grant.

The number of SRD grant beneficiaries varies between 7.5 million and 8.5 million, as recipients are subjected to monthly means tests.

Sassa is developing facial recognition software to strengthen the identity verification process for the grant, Letsatsi said. The software is expected to be implemented in the 2024/25 financial year.’

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