Black Sash Media Statements

60th Anniversary celebrations, 19 to 22 May 2015 – Lynette Maart's Speech

Our CBO partners and beneficiaries, esteemed former Black Sash members (or elders), Arch Tutu & Mrs Tutu and our funders.

Honourable MPs, Premier of the Western Cape, MPLs, Executive Mayor of Cape Town and all our guests.

A special welcome to Carey Duncan and Lindsay McTeague, the daughters of Sheena Duncan, and Annemarie Hendrikz the author of her book.

All protocols observed!

South Africa is globally renowned for its progressive constitution.  Many including the Black Sash worked tirelessly for the inclusion of a Bill of Rights. Socio-economic rights to adequate health care, food, water, social security and housing as well as education, are well embedded in it.  Access to these rights often determines the quality of life poor citizens will experience.

Our government is obliged to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights. However for many living in South Africa the Constitution’s promise of dignity and equality for all remains a distant dream.

The Black Sash’s vision is to make human rights real. Our aim is to enable all, particularly women and the girl child, to recognise and exercise their human rights particularly their socio-economic rights and to create a society that has effective laws and delivery systems, including comprehensive social protection for the most vulnerable.

In his book titled Justice, Edwin Cameron notes -

“At the end of apartheid, the lines dividing poor and rich in South Africa were drawn almost entirely along racial lines. Whites were well off, and blacks were mostly poor. It was not difficult to see that massive shifts in the allocation of public resources would be needed to undo the racial segmentation of social opportunity in our country.... That is after all what the apartheid government and its predecessors did for whites. From the 1930s government intervention, sustained over many decades, came close to eradicating the poor white problem. As a poor white, I profited from this”....and an investment in education enabled Justice Cameron to obtain an Oxford qualification.

Despite progress over the past 21 years of democracy, inequality remains high and structural and other manifestations of poverty persist. Attempts by government to alleviate poverty, restore social justice and narrow the huge income gap are further diluted by immoral, unethical and corrupt business practices. Social Security, a Section 27 right, is a case point. (The Black Sash serves on a SAHRC Task Team exploring the interface between Human Rights and Business Ethics).

A couple of weeks ago Bukiwe Limane from the Paarl Advice Office, my colleague Colleen Ryan and I were on a farm in Franschoek. We met Mr & Mrs Juries (who unfortunately cannot make it tonight), several other grant beneficiaries and two representatives of 1Life (an insurance firm) to witness the repayment of funeral covered instalments deducted fraudulently.

Working with producers Crystal Orderson and Johann Abrahams of Grant Grabs, a documentary screened on Special Assignment on 1 & 2 March 2015, we exposed fraud and misrepresentation of SASSA.  To date the Paarl Advice Office has uncovered (18+25=) 43 cases - and counting - in Franschoek alone.

1Life undertook, in that meeting to report Emerald Wealth Management a brokerage in Bellville to the Financial Services Board for unethical business conduct. The message to 1Life from those in the meeting was clear – “treat us with dignity while we are alive”.

Last year Minister Dlamini ordered SASSA to refund Ma Grace, a pensioner from Makwassie, for monthly airtime deductions. Ma Grace does not even possess a cell phone. The ‘Ma Grace airtime’ typology is repeated many times over across the country. The CBOs working with our Gauteng Regional Office, under Thandiwe Zulu, brought this typology to our attention.

Ma Gloria Mabindisa, a feisty disabled woman living in rual Adelaide, Eastern Cape, had a loan deducted - in full - twice from her bank account.  In desperation she cut up her SASSA card, which had to be replaced at the cost of R20 she can barely afford. Ma Gloria and 400 beneficiaries successfully negotiated with SASSA to reopen of its Adelaide office. Service delivery and recourse came at the cost of travelling 45 km to and 45 km from Fort Beaufort. In Adelaide a CPS official told us of the many airtime (and electricity) deductions from Net1 Mobile Solutions they had to terminate.  Our Eastern Cape Office, under the leadership of Alexa Lane, and CBO cohort was instrumental in the Adelaide process.

The Black Sash and our CBO partners have witnessed many other unauthorised, illegal, fraudulent and immoral debit deductions from the SASSA branded bank accounts  - including water and prescribed debt (older than three years).....

These debit deductions escalated since the 2012 SASSA/CPS (supported by Net1 and Grindrod) contract commenced. The Black Sash, ACAOSA and our civil society partners serve on a Ministerial Task Team with SASSA and DSD to stop these deductions. Our work on the Ministerial Task Team has resulted in a change of the new tender specifications to prohibit EFT, debit and stop order deductions and block the use of confidential data of grant beneficiaries.  These new specifications were briefly under threat when CPS commenced court action on 5 November 2015 to have it set aside. In March 2015, Constitutional Court ordered SASSA to implement a time table that will see the new tender, for the payment of social grants, nationally be awarded in October 2015.

We hope that the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) serves on the new SASSA Tender Bid Committee to ensure that proposals from prospective bidders technically and systemically prohibits  any EFT, stop or debit orders deductions from ring-fenced bank accounts and block the trade of personal confidential data including biometric data and cell phone numbers.  When we approached the SARB in 2013 and 2014 to issue a Directive 12, in term of the National Payments System Act, in the public interest, to stop these unlawful and immoral deductions, commercial guised as national interests mired the responses. It is our moral duty to remind the Reserve Bank that 10 million bank accounts facilitate our country’s social assistance provisions (a Section 27 mandate) to the tune of R130 billion for the 2015/16 financial year. Mr & Mrs Juries, Ma Grace, Ma Siskia and Gloria Mabindisa  and 17 million social grant beneficiaries too have a right to protection from unethical business practices and greed within the banking system.

Yesterday, 18 May 2015, as the deadline for the submission of new SASSA bids drew to a close, Net1 and subsidiary Cash Paymasters Service (CPS) announced that it will not a submit a tender.  It wants to pursue business interests..... but “independently from the limitations and constraints of the SASSA contract”.  Net1, CPS and Grindrod bank as you depart from the SASSA stage of exercising a public function return our government’s property. Leave behind the SASSA database with the grant beneficiaries’ confidential information including their biometric data, cell phone numbers, IDs and social security codes. Refrain from using the database to leverage trade and profit for advance airtime & electricity, loans, funeral cover and other financial services from the “unbanked”.  

The Black Sash works with a network of 400 CBO partners across the country implementing 3 programme namely:- 1) Rights base information, education and training; 2) Citizen Based Monitoring; and 3) Advocacy-in-Partnership.  We have launched an exciting way of conducting citizen based monitoring through our Making All Voice Count project. CBOs monitors collect and load data onto tablets and via the internet. Standardised infographic reports are used in dialogues between citizens and government officials to produce facility Improvement Action Plans.

For more information on our work see our March 2015 newsletter - Please ensure that you name is on our database so that you can receive our quarterly newsletter, our annual report and information on the unfolding Hands Off Our Grants, & other campaigns and programmes. Please ensure that you receive a copy of our 60th anniversary CD containing various productions – GrantGrabs, the  RMCH Community score card methodology for our citizen based monitoring work and Crumbs – reflecting our work on the bread price fixing case.  You can also view some of these movies in the dedicated room. Also speak to our staff members on any aspect of our current work.

I am afraid, it is not yet time to put away the SASHES.

Thank YOU. Enjoy your evening.