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Ministers May Idle for Years: "Doing Nothing is not a Crime", Says President Zuma

Grant beneficiaries reported unauthorized deductions

Grant beneficiaries reported unauthorized deductions

Authors Note

This hub is an installment of the series 'Noteworthy Trend of Events in South Africa'.

A social grants fiasco caused by an idling Minister

During the past two weeks, seventeen-million of South Africa’s most vulnerable people found themselves in a state of despair as they were not sure if their social grants would be paid on April 1st 2017 and beyond.

When the media reminded Bathabile Olive Dlamini, Minister of Social Development of a court ruling that was issued three years ago, which scheduled March 31st 2017 as the end of Cash Paymaster Services (CSP) constitutional obligation to distribute social grants of almost R11-bilion to seventeen million beneficiaries, Minister Dlamini responded that the beneficiaries WILL receive their grants on April 1st. When asked in Parliament, President Zuma, too, assures the country that GRANTS WILL BE PAID (by hook or by crook.)

“How are you going to do it, your honorable Minister? It is almost the end of March, and we are still waiting to see you in court, asking permission to extend the contract which allows CPS to distribute social grants. Do you realize that you have created a crisis by deliberately ignoring the court’s ruling for so long?” – eNCA journalist Karyn Maughan bombarded the minister. Watch video here...

“There is no crisis! You are causing the crisis!” Minister Dlamini insisted repeatedly during the crisis, seconded by President Zuma.

Social grants in South Africa

  • Child Support Grants (at present for over twelve million children up to the age of eighteen years);
  • Social Relief of Distress Grants (to people living under the breadline);
  • Foster Care Grants;
  • Care Dependency Grant (informal foster care)
  • Old Age Grants (60 years and older).
  • War Veteran Grants (for 60 years and over, or disabled, who have fought in the Second World War or the Korean War, excluding people who are already receiving a social grant in respect of him/herself.)
  • Grants-in-aid (for old people and war veterans requiring attendance around-the-clock, excluding people who are in the care of an institution subsidized by the government.)


In 2006, when the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) was established, it inherited a decentralized system containing separate contracts for grant payments in every province. (South Africa has nine provinces!) Beneficiaries who preferred cash payments were served by three companies — AllPay (a subsidiary of Absa Bank), CPS and Emphilweni. Those who preferred electronic payments (roughly 60%) could choose from several banks, the Post Office, or a Sekulula account with AllPay.

If all beneficiaries of grants had their own bank account, grant payments would be a simple process. Unfortunately, roughly 40% of grant recipients want their grants in hard cash.

To pay the right social grant to the right person at the right time at the right place is an enormous challenge. Biometric technology is needed to prevent fraud, such as a national social grants register identified by automated fingerprint technology – a system that take years to design.

Is biometric technology really fraudproof?

In a report for the Center for Social Science Research, Kevin Donovan pointed out that the biometric technology itself failed to catch any "cheaters". The voice verification technology was never sophisticated enough to work effectively and has been virtually abandoned. As a result, the 60% of grant recipients who use ATMs or merchants essentially receive their grants as AllPay had proposed, without monthly verification. Only high profile investigations by the Hawks and SAPS were able to, and in fact have, exposed grant fraud syndicates.

Yet, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini continued to argue that banks should not pay social grants because they lack biometric fraud-prevention technology.

In 2011, Sassa sought to contract a single company which could "consolidate" the grant payment system and biometrically "authenticate" all grant beneficiaries.

The contract was awarded to CPS. Paying the company’s mind-bending fees - by 2016, R171.6-million per month - was not an issue, as it included the hiring and maintaining of infrastructure and premises – in total ten thousand pay points across the country - staff, travel, and stationary costs. Allegedly, using SA’s banks and/or Post Office would have been more expensive.

But then the losing tender – AllPay - claimed that SASSA had changed the criteria for biometric verification from "preferential" to "mandatory" just before the deadline. In other words, a company’s capacity to authenticate beneficiaries was no longer only required during enrolment, but on a monthly basis, as grant recipients have to show biometric "proof of life" every month in order to receive their grant.

The dispute between SASSA and AllPay went from High Court to Constitutional Court, and ended in 2014 when Judge Froneman declared SASSA’s tender procedures unconstitutional and illegal.

The court ruled that SASSA’s last minute change - reducing the number of viable bids to one – CPS – rendered the processes noncompetitive and incomparable regarding costs.

Nevertheless, the court suspended its ruling as not to compromise grant payment, and gave SASSA until end March 2017 to take over the payment function itself as originally planned.

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As we approach the end of March 2017, nothing but talking and arguing has been done by the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini. According to the legal opinion of advocate Wim Trengove, SASSA is still years away from having the capacity to take over the payment of grants.

“But, your Honorable Minister, you should be in court, asking for an extension of CPS’s illegal contract, because after March 31st, when the contract has come to an end, it would not be legally possible to extend it,” the Media reminded the Minister of her duty.

But apparently the Minister and SASSA wanted this to happen in order for them to conclude a new, and possibly illegal again, contract with CPS.

Parliament’s watchdog public accounts committee (Scopa)’s investigated the issue

Called by Scopa to explain why she did nothing about the court’s ruling, Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s arrogance shocked the country. Even when the matter was discussed in Parliament, where her conduct was condemned by the majority, the expressions on her face exposed an atrocious lack of intelligence and no comprehension of her responsibilities and the crises she has caused.

  • Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu described her arrogance as "breathtaking".
  • Members of SA’s leading political party – the ANC - of which Minister Dlamini is a member - labeled the situation as “embarrassing” and "unnecessary".
  • (The) Sassa debacle (is) a spectacle of arrogance and ineptitude, and another example of state capture,” wrote the political editor of Business Day.
  • Critics felt that the Minister's and SASSA’s failure to ask the Constitutional Court for help to ensure that social grants are being paid in a legal and cost-effective manner after CPS' contract comes to an end on March 31st , is either catastrophically incompetent or corrupt (or both).
  • Scopa described the issue as ‘a crisis meant to perpetuate illegality, created by the Minister of Social Development herself.’
  • Sassa’s legal teams worked overtime in an attempt to mop up the colossal mess caused through months of lies, deceit and befuddlement by Minister Bathabile Dlamini.

However, when the matter was discussed in Parliament, and members of all political parties requested President Jacob Zuma to fire the minister without delay, he defended her with the irrational anger of an infatuated lover.

“It would be a ‘very funny democracy’ when you punish someone before the crime,” he said, clearly regarding only the non-payments of grants on April 1st as a ‘crime’ and overlooking three years of doing nothing about a ruling of the court that actually challenged the competence of a Minister of Social DEVELOPMENT.

After all, Minister Bathabile Olive Dlamini is one of the president’s most loyal supporters, and in her capacity as the leader of the African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL), she is moving mountains to ensure that his ex-wife - Nkosazana_Dlamini-Zuma, currently Minister Of Home Affairs - succeeds him to the throne after his term ends in 2019.

Final order of the Constitutional Court

On February 28th , a court action was being brought by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies‚ on behalf of the Black Sash Trust. The Trust wanted the court to intervene to ensure someone is appointed to pay grants so the poor do not suffer.

On Friday, March 17th, just in time, the Constitutional Court allowed the current (illegal) contract between SASSA and CPS to continue for another twelve months to give SASSA time to appoint another company to distribute social grants, or to do it themselves.

Judge Johan Foreman’s opinion of the fiasco was not in Minister Dlamini’s favor! Some of his judgments:

  • Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini placed the programme of social assistance in jeopardy through her actions;
  • Dlamini had the primary responsibility to ensure Sassa did its job, as she appointed its CEO;
  • There must be public accountability for how the matter was allowed to reach crisis level;
  • Dlamini must explain before March 31st why she should not personally have to pay the legal costs of the parties who brought the matter to court;
  • It was one of the "deepest and most shaming of ironies" that government had to rely on a private company, CPS, to resolve the predicament;
  • The sole reason for the litigation was Sassa and Dlamini’s failure to keep their promise to the people of South Africa.

How difficult would it be to comply with the court's ruling?

“It would take the best of the best around 18 months minimum to be able to perform the same job that we do today, and I'm not talking about half a job, I'm not talking about cutting down the service delivery, cutting down pay points, removing biometric, going back to an electronic voucher. I'm talking about a similar system of what we have today, a pristine system. It would take at least 18 months for anybody to come into the same thing." - Executive Chairperson of CPS's parent company Net1, Serge Belamant.

However, the Post Office - one of SA state owned enterprises - maintains that it is able to take over the social grant payment system from CPS and will make itself available to government over the next 12 months.

President Zuma apologized

After the Constitutional Court’s ruling, President Zuma apologized to the country for the "undue anxiety" caused by the social grants fiasco.

“Government deeply regrets the undue anxiety that resulted from the uncertainty over grant distribution. We apologize to South Africans unreservedly.”

He directed an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Comprehensive Social Security, which he will lead and chair himself, to ensure that the order of the court be implemented efficiently and diligently and in its entirety. This committee will assist Cabinet in moving the process forward.

And Minister Bathabile Olive Dlamini? Let me allow her to speak for herself -


Opinion of an owfma-sa

Following a crisis like this is like watching a captivating movie. My emotions get whipped-up until it finally settled in sadness because people are vulnerable victims of their circumstances. Each and every one of us copes to the best of our ability. Too many shortcomings and obstacles prevent us from becoming the perfect creatures we all would like to be.

I feel sad on behalf of all the 'losers', and happy on behalf of all the 'winners'.

I believe that this social grants debacle was only another step the people of South Africa had to take in order to reach their goal of being the best democracy this world has ever seen. Perhaps we will reach this goal in 2030, or in 2050, or in the next century; what really matters is today and our capacity to move forward in the right direction.

My best wishes to all who are tasked with the responsibility to move South Africa and its people FORWARD. After all, I am an owfma-sa - an ordinary white female middle-aged South African. My only duty is to pray:

'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'"


Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on July 14, 2017:

Shyron E Shenko – Power can corrupt the most decent person. Too many temptations encourage selfishness and greed. Perhaps the majority of people are simply not able to stay honest and level-headed in a position of power. Not only SA and the USA are in dire need of a miracle, but the entire world. Scary!

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on July 14, 2017:

wrenchBiscuit – I agree with you – nothing has changed. But what is the alternative for a government? Surely every individual on this planet cannot be a rule on his own. People (both leaders and followers) have an inborn tendency to form groups – a tendency that is driven by our urge to survive - and all groups have a specific set of beliefs and convictions, even if it is only to protect and take care of each.

I would rather say that governments are being corrupted by dishonest and incompetent individuals, and, unfortunately, in our so-call civilizations specific laws and human rights prevent us from getting rid of those rotten individuals.

Thanks for your interesting comment!

Ronnie wrenchBiscuit on July 10, 2017:

An interesting essay, and a most unfortunate situation. Nothing has changed since the Roman Empire, and nothing is going to change for the better in South Africa, or anywhere else in the world as long governments are allowed to exist. All world governments must be abolished. People have been deceived into thinking that they could not survive without a central government. But this is only a grand and clever deception.

I used to believe in the lie as well until I educated myself. There is a way to have law and order, peace and prosperity, and technological advancement without money, or world governments. When we look at the war, and the violence, and the hunger all over the world, we can understand that instead of keeping us safe governments continue to start one war after another, as people continue to starve to death. Government is inherently evil, and it is simply not possible for a Lion to lie down with a lamb, or for a Fox to guard your chickens. Such fiction makes a wonderful story for sleepy children.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on July 10, 2017:

Dear Martie, I fear that with our regime in full power that our social safety nets will be pulled from under us and it sounds very much like your country and ours are on the same collision course with a asteroid that will destroy both countries.

I fear that the people who are in power would figure out a way to hack the fingerprint technology so that it would only benefit themselves.

Blessings and hugs

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 09, 2017:

mckbirdbks – Perhaps this has something to do with the position of the stars, or with the composition of human genes, or with the hole in the ozone layer … :(((

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on April 08, 2017:

Hi Martie - Without studying all the details, it appears that S.A. may be as messed up as the U.S.A. What a contest.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on April 01, 2017:

Jackie Lynnley – Everything that happens seem to be upsetting. Is the level of leadership jinxed in order to maintain and sustain ‘hell-on-earth’?

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on March 30, 2017:

I hate this time in my life so caught up in politics as a daily reality show! I look back at a time I could care less and as much as I can do about it I probably should go back to that. Guess that is how all governments would prefer us but I guess we can't not care can we, as aggravating as it is. Seems I have been holding my breath for something good to happen here in America before it is too late for such a long time.

I pray we both see better days Martie!

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 24, 2017:

Shyron E Shenko – I am following the trend of events in your country, and hope with all my heart that everything will turn out for the best.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 24, 2017:

Nell Rose – There is so much wrong in the entire world! But I guess this has been the case since the beginning of mankind. Some of us were only sufficiently protected from time to time. I’m following your news and hope that all involved terrorists will be hunted down soon.

Nell Rose from England on March 22, 2017:

Oh Martie, there is so much wrong there, I feel so sorry for those who are desperate to know whats going on, I hope it get better.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 21, 2017:

marcoujor – My hope for a miracle to happen comes and goes many times a day. But as long as it comes as much as it goes, I’m okay. I often find important messages in my spam folder. Google is unpredictable! Love you too, dear Mar :)

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 21, 2017:

AliciaC - I agree. Without social grants thousands will die of hunger. I am glad our country can afford these grants. At present thousands are dying of hunger elsewhere in Africa.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on March 21, 2017:

The Lord's prayer is coming in handy -as I found your hub and others' work that I follow in my Spam file - wth?

Your decency and hopefulness for the future shines through these bleaks lines of current affairs.

Have a peaceful day. Love you, mar

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 20, 2017:

The news in this article is so sad. I hope the problems are solved soon. Social grants are very important for those in need. I know someone where I live who receives one. Life would be very difficult for her without it.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 20, 2017:

Nadine May – Thank you! Your opinion really matters. I have to read eleven-and-thirty reports in order to write one hub like this. By the time I publish, I feel sick, depressed, angry, disgusted, afraid, and deprived of hope. While I focus on one topic a week, my TV fires equally bad news like a machine gun. A comment like yours gives me courage to tackle the next topic.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 20, 2017:

DDE – You were here? I hope to find a hub about your holiday. No, things will not change soon. Perhaps hundred years from now people will look back and shake their heads. Well, this is what I do when I look back. This country could have been a model of democracy now if it was not for Apartheid. On the other hand, look at the rest of Africa. For all we know, it could have been a war-stricken ruin.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 20, 2017:

FlourishAnyway – By hook or crook, the people would have received their grants. The payments would have been constitutionally correct, but illegal according to the law with regards to tender procedures and contract awards. The Minister had three years to develop/establish a legal government structure responsible for the payments of grants – and at the same time she would have created jobs. But she did nothing, and due to her negligence and incompetence the government now have to pay a private firm for another year with taxpayers money to do the job – a private firm that was in the first place – four years ago - illegally awarded with a very expensive contract that expires the end of this month. I can't get over the fact that she has done nothing about this for three years! What did she get out of this deal?

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 20, 2017:

junko – I believe like people, nations also grow. I am not sure if 'they' are still in the toddler-phase, where they honestly don’t know the difference between right and wrong, and if they are in the teenage phase, where they deliberately challenge rules and regulations. I hope I will be alive to see SA’s ‘rainbow nation’ comes of age. Fortunately, we do have wise and brilliant leaders, but not enough.

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 20, 2017:

always exploring – Yes, nothing will change under the reign of Mrs Zuma. She was Jacob Zuma’s second wife, but got divorced in 1998. She has some impressive credentials, but she will only be a pawn following the orders of the leaders in the ANC. And sadly, the majority of the leaders and members are just as corrupt as Zuma himself. I honestly hope the ANC will bite the dust in the 2019 election, but I am afraid, if they do, we will most probably see a civil war in all townships (where the majority blacks still live like during Apartheid).

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on March 20, 2017:

Again what a fantastic post of the latest news in SA. I will share it again and I have to admit. Reading your summing up about what is truly going on in SA has by far been the most trustworthy and informative information to read. Well done.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 20, 2017:

Wow! I have been to SA and my holiday there was a great one with family. I didn't feel safe! It is sad of what has been going on and don't know it will all change even more.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 19, 2017:

Denying assistance to the elderly, the disabled and other needy populations in this was is shameful. The incompetence.

junko on March 19, 2017:

Where did they learn to act like that ? Very interesting .

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on March 19, 2017:

This is a sad affair and more proof that the poor and disabled are the ones who suffer when the powerful neglect their duty. If Zuma's wife takes his place, will it not be more of the same? Thanks Martie for keeping us informed. Take care and be safe. Hugs..

Suzie from Carson City on March 19, 2017:

Martie....As I read your episodes of the political activities in your country, I can't help but see the many differences as well as similarities to much that we deal with here in America. Alas, people are people across the globe, wanting much the same things in life with many of the same struggles and leadership flaws.

All due respect, Martie, I'm not too terribly fond of your you like him and approve of him as your leader? The person (woman) who is the subject spoken of in the video, seems to be lax in her responsibilities and has caused much fear & concern among the people, yet Zuma defends her in a rather nonsensical manner. He basically just scolds the man who did his best to bring the issue to his attention as he spoke for the people. (" A Funny Democracy?") Maybe I'm not as informed as I should be on this particular matter. I should just apologize because it's difficult for me (not being from your country) to fully grasp how things are done there. It's amazing that the men in the audience literally laugh at Zuma and shake their heads, like they find him ludicrous! It also surprises me to hear the audible comments and remarks coming from the audience as people speak at the podium. This is something we are not accustomed to here. Is the group on the video considered equal to our Congressional hearings?

I'm sorry you and your countrymen must go through such tough are not alone, Martie. I think you know this... Peace, Paula

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 19, 2017:

billybuc – It is actually scary to know that 17-million out of ± 55-million South Africans depend on social grants – almost 31% !! Thanks for following my series, Billy. I hope it broadens your perspective on the trend of events in your own country :)

Martie Coetser (author) from South Africa on March 19, 2017:

sallybea – Keeping in mind that she is also the leader of the African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL), it’s hard to believe that she doesn’t have the required intelligence to do her job. At present the issue is ‘white capital’, and yet they support CPS, whose mother company is actually in the USA. I would not be surprised when someone discovers a Swizz bank account in her name, stuffed with commission. I don’t say that she is receiving a monthly commission, and therefor she was hoping that nobody will remember the 2014 court ruling. She knew non-payments would never happen, as it would be a violation of the constitution – something the courts will never do. I merely say I would not be surprised if she benefits from the deal.

I’m so sick and tired of corruption! This was not the only controversial case of the week. Another debacle at PRASA (Previous Railways) [again!] also boggled my mind. In order to stay sane, I have to remember the fiasco's in the governments of the old Boere Republics, and in the Union’s and in the previous regime’s. That is why I say we are all victims of our circumstances.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 19, 2017:

A sad state of affairs. I love your upbeat ending, the hope for a powerhouse democracy. I pray along with you, Martie, and may the vulnerable always be able to count on their government for support when needed.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on March 19, 2017:

Unbelievable! Unfortunately, not! This is what happens when the people in control are not up to the task. I despair and my heart goes out to all of those who are affected by such incompetence.

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