The ACDP is aware of the critical role the Social Development department is expected to play in developing and implementing programmes for the eradication of poverty and social protection.

While the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society must be our immediate priority, we appreciate that the longer term vision and goal is to facilitate a caring and self-reliant society.

The anxiety caused by a leadership at odds with each other in our Social Security Agency has been a costly exercise but on the upside it has resulted in a vastly improved combined oversight of SASSA and positive, far reaching initiatives to ensure that the provision of social security services not only operate strictly within the constitutional and legislative framework but are more user-friendly and not as vulnerable to abuse.

The ACDP has often asked the department to ‘up their game’ in terms of communication especially important messages easily conveyed via social media and we would like to congratulate them on doing just that. The messages relating to SASSA cards have been timely and relevant and have elicited a good response. Well done on a really good job!

The problem, however, is the reality on the ground expressed in responses to these messages. For example, the person who said: “Sitting at a local Pensions office is NO fun and I was quite frustrated and angry when I went there recently. Nothing appeared to be happening. Staff were half asleep, busy chewing apples and talking - not all but quite a few. They moved me from one queue (when I was already next in line) to another and sat waiting again. When this was questioned, I was told to just sit there. Nobody tells anybody  what is happening with any of the 3/4/5 different queues. I spoke to a few Gogos in the queue. They had been there from 5am and were very tired. Same place on the bench, same queue. This was now nearly midday. I really felt for them. Tiny babes and children - there for hours. Is this REALLY necessary, please tell me? Are the staff trained?”

And in response to telling people they can call the SASSA Call Centre on 0800 60 10 11, I got responses like this one: “Unfortunately that number and another number for KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) that I was given from the recording are not answered. After waiting and waiting the phone goes dead on both numbers.”

I know the committee raised concerns over long queues at local offices and the attitude of SASSA staff and that officials have alluded to the fact that the system has been offline and is causing the problems. This may be so but surely it is unacceptable that the problem has not been solved. Urgent attention must be given to ensuring systems are online and staff are trained to serve the public in a friendly, professional manner.

In 2017, Statistics South Africa released findings showing that the prevalence of stunting (the chronic malnutrition among children under five) was 27 percent, and that there has been no change in the risk of a child being malnourished since 1993.

Professor Julian May of the UWC Institute of Social Development points out that research internationally and in South Africa has shown that being stunted as a child affects physical and cognitive development, increasing the risk of illness as a child and in later life.

The most important cause of stunting is of course poverty. Poverty here means insufficient income to purchase nutritious food. The cost of securing a basic but nutritionally complete diet for a child between the ages of 3 to 9 years is estimated to be about R540 per month, raising concerns that the Child Support Grant is insufficient for a basic but nutritionally complete diet for a child.

The ACDP is of the opinion that the department should be putting up a stronger case for not only child grants but VAT exemptions. As Professor May points out the department did not do enough to ensure a zero rating for more food items known to be nutritious and bought by poor families; for example, shelf-stable products that use sorghum and are used to make healthy foods that have long been part of our South African cuisine such as mabhele and ting.

Early Childhood Development is another concern. The ACDP would like to remind the Minister that many ECD centres find it difficult to meet norms and standards due to infrastructural, health and safety problems such as  poor sanitation facilities – not enough or unsafe toilets, leaking roofs, unfenced or partially fenced centres, ventilation and lighting problems, food preparation accessible for children, space inadequacy, no provision for a sick bay, etc. Not being able to meet these norms and standards means that centres cannot be registered.  Not being able to register means that the ECD centre is unknown to the Department and not part of the ‘system.’

The existing ECD Maintenance Grant is a great blessing but it still leaves all unregistered centres out in the cold and all too often these are the only centres in a village or area. The grant is also inadequate for the maintenance needs of conditionally registered centres.

The ACDP calls on the Minister to call on government to support Municipalities in taking up their role as per the National Integrated ECD Policy and to provide additional ring fenced MIG funding to Municipalities for ECD Centre improvements to meet norms and standards required for registration.

If we are to attain the national goal of all children from 0-5 years having access to good quality ECD services by 2030, all ECDs must be registered and benefitting from departmental oversight, training and subsidies.

The ACDP would like to wish you honourable Minister, every success in this new and challenging task ahead.  We will support this budget which must eradicate poverty and provide protection for society’s most vulnerable under difficult circumstances.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DEBATE: Budget Vote 17: Social Development
9 May 2018