Around the country, over 17.4 million people depend on social grants, according to the latest figures. Grant recipients include the elderly, the disabled, and vulnerable mothers and children. Without financial aid, they and their dependants could be left destitute, with no income at all.

The latest news from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) is thus very alarming: court papers show that the acting CEO of SASSA, Abraham Mahlangu, has cancelled the tender process to find a replacement for Cash Paymaster Services (CPS). CPS is responsible for ensuring that recipients actually get their grants. And, after a meeting by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts on Tuesday 22 May, it seems the agency is in a lot more trouble than initially imagined.

The backstory

SASSA’s woes started in 2013 when it still had now-Minister of Women in the Presidency Bathabile Dlamini at the reins. It was found that the tender given to CPS was irregular and had to be withdrawn. However, a series of delays and postponements have resulted in no real solution, though years have passed.

The current Minister of Social Development, Susan Shabangu, was behind the initial suspension of a tender process to find a CPS replacement in April 2018, and she will now set up a special committee, according to Mail&Guardian, to explore alternatives to the cash payment of social grants, as well as advise on the transition from CPS.

So what does this mean for many millions of vulnerable South Africans?

It means that their livelihood and survival are on the line, as social grants, such as pensions and child support, are threatenedFor now, CPS is still the service provider, but the Constitutional Court has given a deadline for SASSA, which is September 2018, according to Mail&Guardian.

What does irregular expenditure have to do with it?

The problems at SASSA only worsened when it was revealed that there has been irregular financial activity at the organisation. According to IOL, it was revealed on Tuesday that an events company benefited from an R11 million contract awarded to it by SASSA (!). This is especially alarming, since the events company has been under investigation for swindling millions of rands in the past.

Things are looking dire at SASSA. As millions of people depend on the agency to maintain their existence and basic quality of life, we hope that things will be sorted out soon. And while it seems there is hope now that Ms Dlamini is no longer in charge of SASSA, it remains to be seen what will become of her new department, now that she is the Minister of Women; many South Africans are not convinced either way.