The South African social grant system is said to be one of the best on the African continent. However, it is not without its problems. Tonight we expose illegal and fraudulent deductions from hundreds of unsuspecting pensioners, whose poverty is further perpetuated by this practice, while the culprits get away with impunity.

One of the many victims across the country is 76- year old grandmother Siskie Phiri from Makwassie village, close to Wolmaransstad in the North West Province. She receives a monthly pension but finds it difficult to make ends meet. Despite this, she has been experiencing debit deductions by unknown creditors of up to a thousand rands monthly since July 2013. She says this started when the government introduced the new card system. She has since decided to cover the shortfall by selling roasted peanuts to children in the neighbourhood just to survive.

In 2006 the government established the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) whose role is to distribute social grants, which provide a safety net for the poor. In 2012 SASSA awarded the contract to pay grants to Cash Paymaster Services or CPS. The latter introduced the new card which seems to have also raised a lot of discontent among some grant beneficiaries. During our investigation, we found many cases where deductions without consent of the beneficiaries were done, in complete violation of their rights to a livelihood.

The company that created the system has been at the receiving end of this, with many believing that their alleged unethical business model perpetuates poor people’s poverty. The creator of this system, who is also the head of CPS and Net 1 – is Dr Serge Belamant. He defends the system, saying it plays an important role in providing financial services to people. Some of his own companies, like Moneyline, are service providers.

But it is not just Moneyline involved in providing loans and other services to grant beneficiaries. Because their personal information is freely available, grant beneficiaries are fair game to companies offering loans.

Who is to blame?

This week’s Special Assignment interrogates the issues.
Watch “Grant Grabs” produced by Crystal Orderson and Johann Abrahams on Special Assignment – airing Sundays on SABC 3 at 20:30PM, repeated Mondays at 23:30PM.