Ministerial task team probes SASSA deductions

NABEELAH MOHEDEEN

For the second time in two months mysterious deductions have chewed into Lansdowne resident Sumaya Eksteen’s child support grant, leaving her with peanuts.

The 44-year-old single mother was left with only R8 of the R330 South Africa Social Security Agency (SASSA) grant for February and R21 for March.

Ms Eksteen, who works as an operator for an engineering firm, is adamant she didn’t authorise any deductions from her Sassa account.

She reported the matter to Sassa, which, after investigating, told her she had bought electricity and airtime from her account.

Not so, says Ms Eksteen. “I told them it was not me and asked for the electricity meter number and the cellphone number for the airtime which was bought. They gave me the numbers, and I told them I don’t know either of those numbers,” said Ms Eksteen. “All that was said was they would open a case file, and I am still waiting for them to call me back since the middle of February.”

Ms Eksteen is not alone. Last month, it was reported that at least 2 000 Sassa beneficiaries had complained about irregular deductions.

Sassa’s regional manager Waldie Terblanche made the revelation after more than 50 beneficiaries called an emergency community meeting at the Manenberg People’s Centre to address issues of fraud.

Mr Terblanche admitted illegal deductions were being made from beneficiaries’ accounts.

There are some one million Sassa beneficiaries in the Western Cape.

In January, 46-year-old Thelma Siders, a mother of four from Kewtown, joined 1 000 other beneficiaries at Athlone civic centre to complain about unauthorised deductions.

Ms Siders had R11.90 left in her account after “suspicious” deductions. The Cape Argus spoke to more than 25 Sassa beneficiaries all with similar stories to tell.

Sassa told Ms Eksteen, who suffers from fibromyalgia and uses crutches, she would have to get an affidavit from the police station stating her case.

“It is so painful to walk on these crutches. I have to travel with a taxi and walk to the police station and again the next day to Sassa. It is costly to travel as well.”

She took the affidavit to Sassa’s Wynberg office where she was given a form to then take back to the police station to declare what the deductions from her account were.

“It costs me R14 every day to travel back and forth. Why did they not just give me the form when they told me to go and fill out the affidavit at the police station? I have to travel with these crutches every day,” Ms Eksteen said.

Her daughter is in matric and it is hard making ends meet now that her grant money has been siphoned off.

“Matric is very expensive, there are lots of things that happens during the year. There is a matric camp coming up which my daughter would like to go to, but how can I send her if there is no money?

“I don’t receive any money from her father,” she said.

“Every month I have expenses to take care of. Luckily I am on leave or I would have lost out on the money for the days I spend at Sassa and not at work.”

According to Black Sash, a human rights advocacy organisation, at least a million people are being defrauded of grant payouts in the country.

“At a national level, as reported in Grant Grabs, a Special Assignment documentary – which we commissioned – the special advisor to the minister of Social Development indicated that at least a million people are affected by these deductions,” Elroy Paulus, the Black Sash’s media spokesman said. “The acceleration of deductions since then has been phenomenal.”

In a press statement Sassa warned: “In some cases, these fraudsters use the ‘proof of life’ modus-operandi by visiting beneficiaries’ homes, producing forged Sassa identification cards and informing their victims that they are doing inspections to confirm whether the card holder is still alive. They then ask for the Sassa card, identity documents and PIN numbers. Once in possession of these details, they then use the internet withdraw money from the accounts. In some cases, they use these details to initiate unauthorised monthly debit orders on the accounts.”

Sassa spokeswoman Shivani Wahab said: “Sassa is aware of the numerous EFT debits which are taking place, and has instituted a number of actions, together with the national Department of Social Development. The minister, in trying to address these challenges which were reported by social grant beneficiaries, constituted a ministerial task team, to better understand the environment, and to make recommendations on how social grant beneficiaries can be protected from exploitation.

“This task team comprises representatives from the ministry, the Department of Social Development and civil society partners including the Black Sash and ACAOSA (Association of Community-based Advice Offices of South Africa). This team made a number of recommendations, some of which have already been implemented.”