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Social grants bring relief to the poor

Written by Samona Naidu
Government is helping millions of South Africans escape the burden of poverty every month by providing social grants.

Buying groceries means simply swiping a card, thanks to the new SASSA smart card which is improving the lives of grant beneficiaries across the country.According to the Twenty Year Review released by the Presidency, “Social assistance through grants is the democratic government’s most effective poverty-alleviation tool. The Social Assistance Programme has been expanding at an unprecedented rate, with the number of beneficiaries increasing from 2.7 million people in 1994 to 16 million people by 2013”.

Child support grants were introduced in 1998 and initially targeted children aged seven and below. Over the years this was gradually extended to other age groups and by 2012, it also applied to children under the age of 18.

The old age grant was also normalised so that black people would receive a monthly income like their white counterparts. Before 1994 black South Africans would receive old age grants bi-monthly.

Over time the age limit for old age grants for men was lowered from 65 to 60 in line with the age limit for women.

Also the disability grant, foster care grant, care dependency grant and war veteran’s grant were extended to all South Africans.

About 2.9 million South Africans above the age of 60 receive old age grants, 11.3 million are beneficiaries of child support grants and 1.1 million receive disability grants, the review notes.

The child support grant has grown significantly, increasing from just under 22 000 beneficiaries in 1998 to more than 11.3 million in 2013.

While South Africa has been criticised for creating what some call a ‘nanny’ or dependent state by paying out grants, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini pointed out why social grants are so important.

“We currently have more than a million orphans in the country. We have families that cannot find work, children who live with their grandmothers and children who take care of themselves and their younger siblings in childheaded households. Giving these children a grant is not creating a dependency. It is creating a support system to build a better foundation and a better life for these children. That is our overall goal,” said Minister Dlamini.

While millions benefit from social grants, criminals have also taken advantage of the system with many receiving grants illegally.

To address this problem, the department introduced cash-less smart cards for collecting grants.

With the new system, Nthabiseng Tshabalala, 84, from Orlando East, no longer has to queue for hours on end to receive her grant in cash every month.

Thanks to the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) she, along with the other social grant recipients, received new smart cards last year.

The idea behind the cash-less system is to improve the lives of the poor and to stop fraud and corruption related to social grants.

Through state-of-the-art technology, Tshabalala and other recipients had their biometric details captured. “My fingerprints, my personal details and even my voice was recorded,” she said.

The unique feature about the smart card system is its ability to identify grant recipients by their biometric details. It includes 10 fingerprints, voice and other personal information, which makes it impossible for someone else to pose as a recipient to receive their grant.

In just under a year, SASSA managed to re-register about 22 million beneficiaries and issue 10 million cards.

According to SASSA Chief Executive Officer Virginia Petersen the system makes the lives of beneficiaries easier.

“In many cases we have a grandmother receiving a grant for older persons, a foster care grant or a child support grant. This new system puts all the payments onto one card, eliminating duplication and ensuring that only those who qualified received the grants,” she said.

An added bonus for beneficiaries is that they can now use the smart card at stores to shop, buy groceries and pay bills. “I can buy food.”