Pensioners puzzled by ‘Sassa loan cards’

Nomangesi Makhaphela shows her debit card.

Senior citizens from different clubs and organisations had the opportunity to share their daily suffering and get help when Ikamva Labantu, in partnership with Sector Task Team for Older Persons (STTOP), held an elderly abuse awareness campaign, on Friday July 22.

The campaign, which was supported by the South African Human Rights Comission (SAHRC), took place at Ikamva Labantu’s offices, in Khayelitsha.

More than 150 people gathered at the hall to share their stories and get advice.

They raised their concerns about anything that bothered them, from abuse to illegal deductions from their bank accounts.

But it was the loans offered to pensioners by a company believed to be linked to the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) that got tongues wagging.

Although there is no direct link between the company and Sassa, pensioners found this hard to believe.

The company allegedly offers pensioners loans and directly debits money from their accounts.

Borrowers are issued with a debit card that can be used to draw money and purchase groceries. At the end of the month, the company debits a portion of the money until the debt has been settled.

Pensioners say Sassa, in partnership with the Black Sash, had organised meetings where they warned them against the company, saying they had no relation with the company. However, the matter in which the company conducted its business has made most pensioners believe there is a link between it and Sassa.

They called an investigation to ascertain who is behind the scheme.

Nomangesi Makhaphela, 74, said many pensioners were victims of the scheme. She said she was informed of the scheme by a friend.

“It is something that people talk about over a cup of tea. It all started as a rumour,” she said.

Desperate for extra cash, Ms Makhaphela said she gave the scheme a try and was given a R1 000 loan to pay back over a period of time. To date, she has taken out three loans.

She is expecting to settle the amount in December. However, she does not know her monthly repayments. All she is proud of is that at least she takes home R1 200 every month. She has a monthly subscription for a death policy and the loan repayments, but does not know how much she pays each month. All she knows is that their pension grant is a drop in the ocean. “It just does not stretch far enough,” she said. “In case of emergency, we have to make another plan.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Gavin Weir, director for STTOP. He said no matter how one looked at it, the pension grant money was simply not enough.

He said each pensioner was expected to survive on R50 a day, which included food, clothing, electricity and other expenses.

Some also support their children. He said their role was to provide support to pensioners and clubs that work with them to restore their dignity by creating a platform for pensioners to discuss “real issues” affecting their lives.

He said Khayelitsha was historically “under-serviced” and people knew little about their rights. “And elderly people are the most vulnerable,” Mr Weir said.

Karam Singh, provincial manager for the SAHRC, said they were approached by STTOP to to help elderly people. He said their duty was to promote and safeguard people’s rights in line with the country’s constitution. He added that elderly people, the disabled and children were the most vulnerable, and as an organisation they have an obligation to honour an invitation to provide help.

The biggest challenge though was the lack of staff to assist people. He said the Western Cape office has only 12 people. “That means we cannot have that footprint to be in the community all the time,” he said. “But where we go we ensure that we deal with the challenges by referring them to relevent structures.”

Mr Singh said the challenges faced by the senior citizens in Khayelitsha were the same everywhere in the country. He said they had been in contact with Sassa about all the problems faced by grant beneficiaries and they would be raising the concerns from the workshop with all the relevent structures.

Shivani Wahab, provincial spokesperson for Sassa, promised to respond to Vukani and address some of the concerns raised in Khayelitsha, but had not responded at the time of going to print.