SAHRC requests urgent meeting with minister over Sassa grant crisis

The commission says it’s been closely monitoring what it says are troubling reports that social grants may not be paid out come 1 April.

FILE: A Sassa card. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG – The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has requested an urgent meeting with Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini to get clarity on the payment of grants from 1 April.

The commission says it’s been closely monitoring what it says are troubling reports that social grants may not be paid out when the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa)’s contract with its paymaster comes to an end at the end of the month.

Sassa revealed in Parliament this week that it still doesn’t have a plan in place to ensure some 17 million beneficiaries receive their grants.

Sassa is currently negotiating with Cash Paymaster Services, whose contract was declared invalid to enter into a new agreement for another year.

The commission says it needs to discuss the impact this could have with the minister.

The SAHRC’s Gail Smith says, “The minister’s office has confirmed that they’ve received the correspondence from us requesting the meeting. As I speak to you now, I can’t confirm that there has been a response to the actual letter but we’ve had confirmation that they’ve received the letter from the South African Human Rights Commission.”

STRANDED BENEFICIARIES

A number of grant beneficiaries in the Western Cape say Sassa never informed them of the potential payout crisis.

The Right2Know Campaign held pickets at various payout points across Cape Town on Thursday.

If this fails, millions of the country’s poor will be at risk from next month.

The campaign’s Khaya Xintolo said Sassa has not yet communicated the problem to beneficiaries.

“They are just hearing from the media and there is no information from Sassa on their payments.”

Sassa’s silence has left some beneficiaries distressed with some describing it as a “disaster”.

“I’ve just heard rumours and will need to watch what happens. I have no idea what’s going on,” one beneficiary said.

Another beneficiary said she felt stressed. “I don’t know what I’ll do without the payment on 1 April.”

Cabinet is expected to discuss the looming social grants crisis during a special meeting next week.

CALLS FOR MINISTER TO STEP DOWN

Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says it wants to meet with the African National Congress to raise its concerns over the social grant payment debacle.

The trade union federation wants Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini to resign or to be fired.

Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali says the federation wants heads to roll at Sassa and for Dlamini to be axed.

“They have failed to deal with irregular expenditure and tender processes which has threatened the livelihood on 17 million grant beneficiaries.”

The federation described the crisis as an administrative bungling that smells of corruption.

It says it will raise this issue and again push for the minister to take political responsibility by resigning in its next meeting with the ANC.

At the same time, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane has called on Dlamini to step down.

The former archbishop of Cape Town says the social grant debacle is reason enough for her to resign or to be sacked.

He says Dlamini should allow a more capable person to handle the matter if she is unable to do so.

“Not getting a social grant is not an inconvenience, it’s a calamity.”

The minister's spokesperson Lumka Oliphant says Ndungane should not engage Dlamini in the public space.

“The department and minister has a very good relationship with faith-based organisations and their leaders.”

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)