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MRC – Info4Africa forum.

The erosion of the social security system in South Africa was the theme of a presentation given by UKZN alumnus Ms Evashnee Naidu at the recent Medical Research Council (MRC) and info4africa forum.

The full title of her talk was: “The Erosion of the Social Security System due to Recent Amendments and its Impact on ARV Adherence and Applications for the Chronically Ill”.

The forum, hosted jointly by the MRC and info4africa, takes place on the last Tuesday of every month at 491 Peter Mokaba Road.

Naidu is the Regional Manager for Black Sash in KwaZulu-Natal, a veteran human rights organisation which has existed for 58 years advocating for social justice in South Africa. Black Sash is based in all nine provinces across the country with a strong physical presence in four.

Her talk informed and raised aspects of a very critical nature in terms of the grant system in South Africa. Problems such as rejections for grant applications and unlawful deductions have arisen from new processes that were implemented and are now seriously affecting applications for grants.

Naidu took her audience through the process of applying for a grant at a South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) office and how a person was required to fill out a form, present the required documentation, get interviewed and have finger prints and voice recognition recorded so that within 24 hours, their details could be processed and their grant application – for older citizens, children, foster care or disability – submitted for approval.

According to Section 27 of the South African Constitution: ‘Everyone has the right to have access to social security.’ If a grant is rejected, the applicant has the right to approach SASSA for a reconsideration of their application which is an internal SASSA process. The application for reconsideration must be made within 90 days of receiving notification of the rejection of the application.

If the application is not approved at the reconsideration stage, there is a further 90 days in which to apply for an appeal to the Independent Tribunal against the decision of the Reconsideration Panel.

Naidu explains that each of these phases take 90 days, adding up to a lot of waiting time for applicants. She says the waiting can be so long that ‘with around 60 000 applications being  back-logged from about 2006 to March 2010, some people with chronic illnesses who have applied for grants have died before receiving any money.’

The Social Assistance Amendment Act, 2010 and its accompanying regulations have also had a critical impact on people applying for disability grants. Naidu explains that ‘because of the staggering levels of rejections, clients choose not to even go to the appeal phase because of the time delays. The sad reality is that most of these clients are diagnosed with HIV and are chronically ill.’

Naidu said, ‘It was found that post the re-enrolment process, unlawful and illegal deductions were coming out of beneficiary’s accounts, which only created further chaos. People who were going to withdraw grant money from their accounts found amounts missing with deductions having taken place without their permission. Chunks of money are being taken from the impoverished and disadvantaged in society. We’ve been following this up around the country and what’s happening is scary.’

Black Sash and the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) have been attempting to address these problems, having raised beneficiaries’ issues, causing SASSA to agree to investigate in June 2013.

In November 2013, the Department of Social Development (DSD) was asked by Black Sash to fast track implementation of SASSA’s payment systems to make it easier for beneficiaries to access their money. With a public meeting having been arranged in January this year with the National Treasury, Public Protector, National Credit Regulator and civil society partners, Black Sash and those invited, committed to take this serious issue forward.

‘Black Sash also made a verbal submission to the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry: National Credit Amendment Bill [B47-2013] in February 2014, with regard to reckless lending and overspending and how this is linked to the aspect of illegal and unlawful deductions from grant beneficiaries’ accounts. They will be meeting with the Minister of DSD to address these issues further,’ said Naidu.

People wanting to check on the progress of their grant applications should contact SASSA at Tel 0800 601 011. Those with problems can also use the Black Sash Help lines on www.blacksash.org.za