The Portfolio Committee called the meeting during the parliamentary recess because Social Development was responsible for protecting the vulnerable and Parliament had to do something about the ongoing rape and murder of girls and other forms of gender-based violence. There had been consistent reporting in the media of the rape of children. Secondly, a crisis had occurred in the payment of social grants that required immediate attention.
Two Chapter Nine institutions, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Gender Equality Commission, were invited to brief the Committee on issues relating to child abuse and gender-based violence. The Committee also invited Members of the Executive Councils responsible for Social Development in the provincial legislatures as well as the Heads of Department of the provincial Departments of Social Development to attend the meeting to provide insight into the situation in the provinces and to make recommendations on addressing the challenges. The Committee wanted everyone to plan and work together.
The chief mandate of the South African Human Rights Commission was to hold departments accountable and, as such, it had to perform an oversight role. However, the South African Human Rights Commission was forming its own Office of Child Rights that would employ its own social workers to assist children while awaiting SAPS and DSD social workers. That would enable the Child Rights unit to respond rapidly. A 2017 report by the Children’s Institute highlighted a number of systemic failings against abused and neglected children, including physical abuse, not being taken seriously. The report also revealed that the needs of children with disabilities were not recognized, children were exposed to ongoing risks; poor record-keeping prohibited evidence-based planning. The HSRC recommended that it be adequately resourced to carry out its mandate to promote and protect the rights of all children in the country and that a Multi-Party Caucus, solely focused on children’s rights, be established in Parliament.
Members asked about the challenges that the community service organisations were experiencing and whether the Committee should be intervening to assist them with legislation or any other kind of delivery issue. Was there a tracking system, such as a watch, that children could wear to protect them from kidnappers? Could a chip be implanted in a child? Did the South African Human Rights Commission agree that there should be an over-arching body to drive interventions? Was there enough capacity, especially in the Department of Social Development, to make a dent in the violence against children?
The Department of Social Development was fully aware of all the media reports and all the things that were happening around rape and kidnapping and exploitation of children. There was something wrong because the country was not protecting its children. Society and government institutions were reactive to what had already happened. That needed to change. The prevention mechanism had to be strengthened. Families had to be strengthened. The state needed to provide adequate support, but social workers were inadequate in both numbers and funding. Prevention lay with the families, as the social worker did not live in the family and was only called after the event. The Department recommended a ward-based approach, but the question was how to structure a ward-based approach to ensure preventative programmes.
The Members of the Executive Councils and the Heads of provincial Departments were invited to share their understanding of the problem and suggestions for addressing the matter of child abuse. One province expressed concern that the Children’s Act was not being fully implemented although all the mechanisms for dealing with the problems were contained in the Act, although the Children’s Courts were under-resourced to deal with the scope of the problem. The one fundamental common denominator was missing fathers. Other provinces suggested that the problem of building a strong family could not lie solely with Social Development. It was everybody’s business to care for the children. Parents neglected their children. The rural character of the provinces presented different challenges from the urban settings, making it difficult to have a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. One needed to understand what one was dealing with to have an effective intervention and more had to be done to analyse conditions in the communities in rural areas and villages. Not only should families be more responsible, but communities had a role to play in protecting children.
KwaZulu-Natal was operating a ward-based system where there was a social worker or a group of social workers working in a ward. The programme, together with the inter-governmental approach in the province, was showing gains but the magnitude of social ills, even in a ward, demanded additional manpower. It was not just about coordinating departments but also about coordinating community workers from the Departments of Health, Social Development and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
The Commission on Gender Equality noted that, in addition helping the young girls, the issue of young boys being abused and raped should also be considered. Domestic violence was not restricted to specific demographics or classes either; it was a widespread issue. There were also frequent kidnappings in certain cultures which resulted in young girls being forced to become wives. 91 000 underage girls in South Africa were married. Men punished their wives by abusing the children or taking the children away. The Commission on Gender Equality was calling for men to discuss gender equality because the idea that talking about such things emasculated a man was harmful to society as it left violence unobserved and unchecked. Better coordination of agencies that were trying to assist was essential. The Commission had been monitoring police stations where the police were advising those who came for help to go back home and sort out the problem. That approach had, in many cases, led to the assault or death of the women.
Members asked for suggestions as to what could be done to fix the problem. Institutions were not collaborating which was the cause of a lot of strife. Who was in charge of coordination? What had happened to the five-year Plan of Action?
A SASSA matter that had become a priority was the chaotic state of grant payments at the beginning of July 2018. The Acting Chief Executive Officer of SASSA was, at the time of the meeting, in Gauteng dealing with the issues. The Chairperson called him and asked him to report over the telephone. The CEO reported that from midnight on 30 June 2018, technical glitches had occurred on the SASSA IT infrastructure because of the number of people trying to use the new SASSA cards. The system would time-out after a certain number of minutes. Experts had discovered that the strain of multiple attempts to access accounts by the beneficiaries had caused the time-outs. SAPO had coped at the beginning of June when the Post Office had paid 233,000 grants. However, that number had shot up to over 930,000 in July, and the system could not cope. Furthermore, the speed on the line connecting the SASSA payment system with the banks was just too slow and had affected processing. The volumes of data on the line had throttled the line.
There were also over-the-counter issues when a beneficiary wanted to withdraw a benefit of over R1 500, such as the pensioner grant of R1 680, as there was a cap of R1,500 per cash pay-out at the post offices. The CEO informed the Committee that the cap had since been removed and those beneficiaries could transact to the maximum of their benefit. At some of the franchises, in particular Spar stores, there had been problems because Spar banking services had not uploaded the banking details of the new SASSA cards. Other retailers had not experienced that problem.
SASSA confirmed that it was monitoring the system on an hourly basis and the system was stabilising. The problem was confined to the new SASSA cards, that was 700 000 of the 10.8 million beneficiaries. Beneficiaries could access their grant at a bank ATM, a point of sale, a retailer or a post office. Too many people had gone to the post offices. SASSA assured the Committee that the money was in the accounts of all beneficiaries. However, the challenge had come about when they had tried to withdraw that cash with the new SASSA cards. By 5 or 6 July 2018, all beneficiaries would be able to access their money.
Provinces were asked to share their experiences in respect of the delays. All provinces raised similar issues. The main problem area was that the beneficiaries had not been informed about the problems, resulting in chaotic situations, especially at the post offices. A major problem was the PIN numbers which older people had forgotten. SASSA officials were not at the pay points, and queues in the post offices were too long while staff displayed an inappropriate manner in dealing with older people. No one from SASSA had communicated with the provinces.
Committee Members also had questions for SASSA. Why had there been no trial run? How was the strike by SASSA staff impacting on the payment of grants to beneficiaries? Had SAPO been supported as promised?
The Chairperson suggested that a new roadmap for cooperation between SASSA and SAPO be worked out and that a checklist be drawn up. The Committee would work with SASSA and SAPO to improve the situation. The Committee would also await communication from the national and provincial Departments of Social Development and the Chapter Nine institutions about the way forward in respect of child abuse and gender-based violence.
The Chairperson welcomed Members and the Chapter Nine institutions that would be presenting. She welcomed the provinces, particularly, as she wanted everyone to plan together and to work together. She appreciated that Members had left their constituencies to be at the very important meeting. She welcomed SASSA because the entity was very important to the Committee. SASSA’s Acting DG had told the Committee about a new system being put in place between SASSA and SAPO, and there had been an agreement about regular updates. The Members wanted to hear directly from SASSA, the agency that had been appointed to feed and care for the needy and to ensure that the beneficiaries had something to take home once a month.
What had also promoted her to call the meeting was the fact that Social Development was responsible for protecting the vulnerable and Parliament had to intervene and do something about the ongoing rape and murder of girls and other forms of gender-based violence. Girls were no longer safe anywhere – not in schools, not in universities, nor in their communities, because they were at risk of being killed. The Committee’s responsibility was to protect the vulnerable in the country and yet there had been consistent reporting in the media of the rape of children and the kidnapping of children to rape them. Mothers and parents in South Africa were not capacitated to look after the vulnerable. It was difficult to live up to the Children’s Act and the United Nations Conventions on the Protection of Children.
The Chairperson emphasised that the Committee was not holding a workshop. It was a meeting that would consist of presentations by Chapter Nine institutions. The Committee wanted to know if those institutions were seeing the same escalation of issues that the Members were seeing. The Department of Social Development was present because it was responsible for all vulnerable people. She wanted Chapter Nine institutions to provide information that would indicate whether the political observations of Committee Members were correct. Chapter Nine institutions would provide insight through a different lens. What were the challenges? How should the Portfolio Committee respond to the United Nations? What should the Members say when they left the meeting? Provinces were requested to provide information as to their challenges. Members of Executive Councils in provincial legislatures would speak on behalf of the provinces.
The Chairperson also indicated that SASSA had not yet confirmed how it would address the Committee and provide the information about the partnership with the South African Post Office (SAPO) that Members wanted. The Committee looked forward to parting ways with Cash Payment Services (CPS) and was looking forward to being in the good hands of SAPO. If SAPO was not doing well, and she did not know if they were or were not doing well as the Committee had not been briefed, then the meeting would have to determine what needed to be done to improve things. The representatives from the provinces were there to inform the Committee of how things were progressing in the provinces.
The Chairperson requested all the MECs, HODs, Chapter Nine Commissioners and officials to introduce themselves.
Presentation by SAHRC on interventions taken to deal with the escalating statistics of rape and kidnapping of children
Commissioner Angie Makwetla, Commissioner Responsible for Children’s Rights at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) made a presentation on behalf of the SAHRC. She apologised for the absence of Adv Bongani Majola, Chairperson of SAHRC, but he had requested her to represent the Commission as she was responsible for the Children’s Rights.
SAHRC’s chief mandate was to hold departments accountable and, as such it had to perform an oversight role. However, the SAHRC was forming its own Office of Child Rights that would be employing social workers to assist children while awaiting SAPS and DSD social workers. That would enable the Child Rights unit to respond rapidly.
SAHRC was working with the Commission for Gender Equality to deal with the effects of gender-based violence on children. In April 2018, the Commission published a research brief titled: ‘Unpacking the gaps and challenges in addressing gender-based violence in South Africa’. In the research brief, SAHRC identified the primary targets of gender-based violence in South Africa as women and adolescent girls, exacerbated by gender discrimination coupled with the lower socio-economic status of women.
Areas of concern included early child marriage and sexual assaults on children, but when the situation became a South African Police Service issue, SAHRC had to stand back. Ukuthwala, which is a form of abduction of children for forced marriages, was a concern. The SAHRC was teaching parents the rights of young girls so that parents did not agree to Ukuthwala. Assaults and killing of children with albinism was another concern. Everyone needed to listen to the voices of children. Children had talked to the SAHRC about living with albinism and had stressed that they were not good luck charms and their fear was of people using the body parts of people with albinism for good luck. Violence was one of the running themes, and the Child Protection unit was focussing on women and children trafficking in 2018.
The SAHRC was educating children on their rights and providing support when they reported to a police station, especially deaf children who could only sign. The SAHRC was working with SAPS to train police to sign.
The Chairperson intervened asking what solutions the SAHRC had and whether it had a budget to undertake those actions. The Committee wanted to know about constraints. Was the SAHRC making an impact? Was the SAHRC doing enough for children? What were the challenges?
Ms Makwetla noted other interventions by the SAHRC. Addressing the question of whether SAHRC was doing enough for children, she noted that a 2017 report by the Children’s Institute highlighted a number of systemic failings against abused and neglected children, including physical abuse and not being taken seriously. The needs of children with disabilities were not recognized; children were exposed to ongoing risks; and, poor record keeping prohibited evidence-based planning.
The SAHRC recommended that it be adequately resourced to carry out its mandate to promote and protect the rights of all children in the country and that a Multi-Party Caucus, solely focused on children’s rights, be established in Parliament.
The Chairperson asked if changes were taking place as the Committee wanted reassurances as to how the abuses were going to be stopped. She reminded the meeting that Parliament could not pronounce on things that were not achievable.
Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked what challenges the community service organisations were experiencing and whether the Committee should be intervening to assist them with legislation or any other kind of delivery issue. The service organisations had constraints and, because the SAHRC was partnering with them, their constraints became the constraints of the SAHRC. Having offices in nine provinces was good but considering that the provinces were huge, it was not just a pop-in situation. She asked if the SAHRC could enlighten the Committee as to the difficulties, how they could be overcome and whether the Committee could help in any way.
Ms B Abrahams (ANC) saw children being kidnapped daily in local communities, which was very sad. Was there a tracking system, or an alert system that would go off in minutes, e.g. a watch that the child could wear to protect the child from kidnappers. However, she questioned how safe any child was because family members were also involved in the trafficking. What could be done? Could a chip be implanted in a child? How safe was safe? Sometimes children were kidnapped from a safe place.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) had a fundamental problem that issues of gender-based violence were not on the radar of most departments, be it the Departments of Police, Health, Social Development or Women. She had seen departments acting with impunity concerning gender-based violence because it was not a focus area. The problem with fighting gender-based violence or abuse against children was that each department had a different approach and was doing its own thing. Previously President Zuma had proposed a national council against gender-based violence, and she maintained that an over-arching body that would drive gender-based violence, particularly abuses against children, would be a better approach than each of the Commissions and departments working in silos. She asked whether the SAHRC would agree that there should be an over-arching body to drive those interventions.
Ms B Masango (DA) noted the Commission’s interventions against violence against children and asked if there was sufficient capacity to deal with the issue as one saw the scourge increasing, instead of lessening. Was there enough capacity, especially in the Department of Social Development, to make a dent in the violence against children?
The Chairperson noted that the questions were for Social Development as well as the SAHRC. There were community service organisations, but children were constantly abused. She added that children were abused so much that they became retarded. Schools alleged that social workers did nothing when abuse was reported. She asked the Department to say what it was doing about the abuse of children.
Commissioner Makwetla noted that the questions were very serious. It was good that she was in one room with Social Development, but she did not want to give a superficial answer. She would provide responses, but she believed that she should get together with Social Development to address the questions and send adequate answers to the Committee and then come back to discuss the responses with Members. The SAHRC held hearings to call to account departments that were supposed to deliver human rights to the country, but some departments were unresponsive and had to be subpoenaed to talk to the Commission. That was not right. If the country was concerned about human rights, everyone should be holding hands. Working together, SAHRC and the Department could address the ad hoc approach of working in silos.
The Chairperson asked the Department of Social Development to respond to Members’ questions. The SAHRC had engaged in oversight and Committee also engaged in oversight, which was why she had wanted the SAHRC to be there when the Committee questioned the Department. The provinces had specific information and she wanted MECs to share their knowledge of particular problems, especially where social workers were not helping. But firstly, she wanted to hear from the Department. She wanted to hear what prompt action it had taken to deal with cases of abuse and why social workers were not visible. She believed that social workers always had an excuse, such as the non-availability of vehicles, when women were looking for a shoulder to cry on.
Ms Connie Nxumalo, Deputy Director-General: Social Welfare, Department of Social Development, agreed with the report by the SAHRC as that was exactly what was happening, and the Department was fully aware of all the media reports and all the things that were happening around rape, kidnapping and exploitation of children. There was something wrong because the country was not protecting its children. Any nation that did not prioritise its children was a dead nation. The abuse usually happened in relation to someone very close to the child and the public only heard about it later. Society and government institutions were reactive to what had already happened. That needed to change. The prevention mechanism had to be strengthened. Families had to be strengthened. Where were the parents when those things were happening to a child? Parents were becoming vulnerable and could not take charge of their own children. There were also external factors that prevented parents and families from taking charge of their responsibilities.
Where did the state come into the picture? The state needed to provide adequate support, but there were insufficient social workers. That had been an ongoing refrain. Social workers were inadequate in both numbers and funding. Society had to confront that reality. Civil society wanted to help, but resources were inadequate to support the entire children’s sector. However, the legal and policy environment was adequate. The problem lay with the implementation. The coordination mechanism was not strong but, even where there was coordination, the issues continued. What was not being done correctly? Research showed that it was the family that was the problem, so it was a societal issue. The underlying problem lay with the family. There were different familial structures in South Africa, but the problem lay in those structures. How could the system be turned around to protect the children at an early stage? Prevention lay with the families, but parents did not fight for their own children. The social worker did not live in the family and was only called after the event when it was too late.
Ms Nxumalo recommended a ward-based approach so that each family would be known, and its problems understood. The question was how to structure a ward-based approach to ensure preventative programmes.
Mr Albert Fritz, MEC for Social Development, Western Cape Provincial Government, agreed with the DDG. The Department had to execute the legislation. The Departments, national and provincial, had to implement the Children’s Act because all the mechanisms were there. He had problems with starting another unit within the oversight body. The oversight body should not become involved but should maintain that oversight role and hold the departments to account. Each department/entity should get its own act together. There were local Social Development offices in all towns and that should be the first point of call.
The second point that he wanted to make was that the Department in his province saw the missing link in all the child care centres. The one fundamental common denominator was missing fathers. Men made children and then they disappeared. Fatherless children murdered other children and filled the child and youth care centres to overflowing. Later, they graduated to prison. The child and youth care centres were a huge problem as they were over-crowded. It was important to look at the Children’s Act and to work with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to have Children’s Forums in all provinces. Furthermore, the Children’s Courts were under-resourced. More magistrates were needed to deal with the children waiting to go to court. Everyone should get their priorities right. The Department of Social Development had a statutory role and should carry out its mandate.
The Chairperson said that the Committee needed the information. She wanted to know what the DDG saw as she was in the driving seat. SA was equal to Western India in respect of dangers to children and that was really worrying. Was the Children’s Act being implemented? Although the Committee had an oversight role, it could not fold its arms if other departments were not doing their work. The Committee needed to know about it as it could go to the Speaker of Parliament to suggest ways of addressing the situation. Oversight was not just about how much had been spent: it was about the impact on the lives of women and children. The Department was not achieving the goals and the Committee wanted introspection. The government had to address the plight of children. She referred to the rape of an 18-month old child.
Dr Pumza Dyantyi, MEC for Social Development, Eastern Cape Provincial Government, agreed that the biggest challenge was resources, adding that society could not rely on Social Development only. The problem of building a strong family could not lie solely with Social Development. It was everybody’s business to care for the children. Parents neglected their children. Where were the parents and what were they supposed to be doing? Partnerships with other departments were essential to building families. Children were abused by family members and in the homes where they stayed. The parents, families and other departments needed to be strengthened.
Mr Gift van Staden, MEC for Social Development, Northern Cape Provincial Government, concurred with the previous speakers in their analysis of the challenges being experienced in provinces. He spoke of an instance in the Northern Cape where a six-year-old was stabbed to death while defending his mother from being raped. The rural character of the provinces presented different challenges from the urban settings. It made it difficult to have a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. One needed to understand one was dealing with to have an effective intervention. The Departments were not doing enough to analyse conditions in the communities in rural areas and villages.
He added that current programmes were not effective as it seemed as if departments were competing: they were not considering other departments and what had previously been done. Integration and coordination became critical. When operating on ward base, one became aware of the interventions, but the impact could not be felt because of the disjointed approach to the implementation of programmes. Working in silos was not helpful. He re-emphasised the importance of family structures. Social Development was supposed to augment but the problem was the lack of solid families and that gap in the primary role was the problem. The Committee needed to look into strengthening the family structure. All government departments had to zoom into the core and strengthen the family structure.
The Chairperson noted that nothing had been said about whether the parents were still in charge of the families. Were family norms and values instilled in children? Very few schools informed parents when schools were closed, and children were sent home at different times without informing parents. Schools did not worry about children who were not in class but when schools were out, children were more vulnerable. There was no respect for families by schools in the rural villages. There was no system to nurture a young person. A multi-disciplinary approach was a good idea but, as Dr Zola Skweyiya always said, Social Development had to champion the approach and had to generate policies that would shape South Africans in terms of citizenry. It was not happening. She referred to a man who had circumcised young men with tragic results. The role of socialising young people was left to no one.
The Chairperson asked if NGOs were still relevant. She knew that Social Development funded some of the organisations, some of which were faith-based, and some were community-based. Traditional leaders were working with government and were sometimes effective. Was Social Development making use of their platforms? Churches were no longer relevant. They were no longer effective in communities. Were the schools relevant? Food security had been lost. Food was not grown at schools and old food was bought for the feeding scheme. She was looking for a way to make things work. The provinces should provide guidance. Justice was about arrests, instead of being preventive and promotive. She asked that the meeting wrap up the discussion on the abuse of children as she wanted to get onto the issue of SASSA and wanted reports from provinces as to how many people had not been paid, and so on.
She asked provinces that had not yet done so to report on the issue of gender-based violence and child abuse.
Ms Nokuthula Khanyile, Head of Department: Department of Social Development, KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government, said that she would not repeat the points made by the representatives of other provinces. She referred to a case in KwaZulu-Natal where a child’s stepfather had repeatedly raped the child.
Ms Khanyile pointed out that not only should families be more responsible, but the communities had a role to play in protecting children. She also wanted to highlight the role played by the media that had brought that particular case to the attention of the public. She was disappointed and concerned to discover that an NGO had known about the case but had not provided protection to the child. The child had since been removed to a place of care, and the Department was conducting an investigation into the community organisation. Protection against child abuse required the involvement of each and every role player.
KwaZulu-Natal was operating a ward-based system where there was a social worker, or a group of social workers, working in a ward. She was seeing the gains of the programme together with the inter-governmental approach in the province, but the magnitude of social ills, even in a ward, demanded additional manpower as the DDG had already indicated. The Department tried to do its best, but the demand for resources was too great. Also, there were other demands on social workers in a ward, such as the elderly, disabled people, etc. She appreciated the grant enabling the employment of social workers, but there were still unemployed social workers in the province that the Department could not afford to employ.
Mr Xoli Mahlalela, Head of Department: Social Development, Mpumalanga Provincial Government, spoke about the ward-based approach where all departments connected at ward level. It was based on the integrated model which enabled departments to know the community and the issues within the community and families. KwaZulu-Natal had done a lot of work in that area. It was a good system that should be adopted by other provinces. However, it was not just about coordinating departments but also necessitated the coordination of different community workers in a ward, such as health workers and social workers and Cogta community workers. The question to be asked was whether the resources were being effectively used.
Mr Mahlalela added that Vodacom had developed a solution for outreach for community development workers in Social Development. The solution had especially been used by the Department of Health and had allowed that Department to identify vulnerable families. Providing cell phones had also helped. Once households had been identified in the wards, vulnerable children were given cell phones on which they could press a button for help.
The Mpumalanga Department of Social Development had provided programmes for children during the school holidays, and social workers had trained children how to be safe and what to do. Children were also trained at drop-in centres and even during house-to-house visits. The Department updated the child protection register regularly, and no abusers were permitted to work for the Department. He gave examples of albino children who had been kidnapped and killed in the province. A workshop had been conducted on albinism. His Department would be focussing on albinism on Mandela Day. He had problems in terms of resources, especially with the number of social workers, but the province had a moratorium on employing staff. He hoped it would be lifted soon.
The Chairperson noted that no one had said whether the system was working and whether the abuse was declining. It seemed as if the issue was escalating. The Committee did not want to blow things up out of proportion. She asked Mr Mahlalela if he could say whether the threat was decreasing or increasing. He had told the Committee what Mpumalanga had done, but the problem still existed. SA was a country which had dealt with HIV/AIDS but could not address child abuse. What else could be done to help the children?
She asked the KwaZulu-Natal representatives why was there no agreement for the pilot to be rolled out if everyone agreed that it was working well? The Committee was hearing that there were good results from the pilot, but there was no talk about rolling the programme out to other provinces. Social development had spoken about child protection but where children were suffering was in the homes, churches, schools and universities. The Committee had to ensure that the government did something to help the children. Other departments would take charge of the child when they went to school or needed medical care, but Social Development was primarily responsible for the child in its home and community. That was why the Committee wanted to work with the SAHRC.
The Committee would go straight to Treasury if Members knew what was effective and how funds could be spent effectively. The Committee could not ask National Treasury for funds for social workers if Members did not know how effective social workers were. She asked how social workers were monitored to ensure that they did their work. Why were social workers always reactive and not proactive? Too often they reacted because they had heard something. The departments needed to foresee problems and not wait until the child had been abused. The child abuse issues were gender issues, and the Gender Equality Commission needed to recognise it as a gender issue. The meeting wanted answers. The Portfolio Committee needed to discuss the issues with the Minister. She discussed examples of child rape.
The Chairperson requested the Gender Equality Commission to report very briefly, although she expected that the Commission would have the same story.
The Chairperson introduced the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) and said that the Commission would be able to offer an educated opinion on interventions related to gender-based violence, underage marriages and human trafficking as that was the Commission’s area of expertise. It was also essential for the representatives of provinces to give their input because it was necessary for the Committee to know what was happening on the ground.
Briefing by the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE)
Ms Lulama Nare, Chairperson, CGE, stated that everything she presented had been submitted to the Committee for Women in the Presidency. She added that, in addition to the Chairperson's passionate comments about helping the young girls, the issue of young boys being abused and raped should also be considered. Often the mother was blamed. However, there were also a lot of absent fathers. The practice of blaming mothers was also associated with many other problems and was the result of unfortunate societal norms. Men who harmed their children and wives were supported by ideas that that was acceptable in that culture. Much of the sexual violence was committed by men, and for efforts to be successful, men needed to be included in the fight against this type of violence. Domestic violence was not restricted to specific demographics or classes either; it was a widespread issue. Men punished their wives by abusing the children or taking the children away.
The CGE was calling for men to discuss gender equality because the idea that talking about such things emasculated a man was harmful to society as a whole because it left violence unobserved and unchecked.
There was not enough coordination of help services. The CGE had been monitoring police stations and had reported the findings along with a Victim’s Charter which was meant to instruct the police on how to help those who had been abused when they went to the police station. The police were trying to be mediators or social workers, telling those who came for help to go back home and talk the issue through. What the police needed to do was to report the crime. In studying cases like those when the police turned victims away, it was found that there was often a death soon after.
Gender Commission monitors were also closely following the cases at magistrate courts and appealed to the courts when there were injustices.
She asked the Committee to define statutory rape and the age associated with those rapes. Rapes were being justified because the victims were not virgins. The CGE had not attempted to influence a magistrate or say what was best for the magistrate's precinct. However, magistrates should be aware of the gender dynamics taking place. One could not be fair and gender-blind. Also, the victims, usually young women, should be asked to speak on their own rather than having someone else speak for him or her.
There were also frequent kidnappings in certain cultures which resulted in young girls undergoing “breaking.” That was a practice where the captors would force the girl to have sex so that she could be kept as a wife. That practice was usually applied to young girls aged 13-16, which was under the age of consensual sex. 91 000 underage girls were married. The CGE had been called to schools because there are young girls changing in the school from school uniforms into Makoti, the clothing worn by newly-weds. The abductions frequently happened during holidays and communities were open about the practice.
Coordination between agencies trying to prevent such things from happening to children needed to be better. The police station, Sexual Offences Institution, and the NPAs were all spread out in a fashion which made it extremely difficult to help those who needed help. The entities are not "working together as one unit" and that was making the people suffer. The Department of Home Affairs was officiating marriages of young girls legally and that was being questioned by other countries. .
There should be more awareness of the issue because it directly related to the safety of South African citizens and their children.
Ms Nare had asked the Chief Justice to provide statistics on how many physical abuse cases appear before the courts each month. Also, there should be the establishment of a Gender-Based Violence Counsel which can coordinate all current efforts made by various entities. Many groups are trying to fix these issues, but there is not a single leader or unified force which means that those who are working on it can not perform their jobs to their full proficiency. Having this counsel would also alleviate pressure on the CGE meaning that they will be able to give more time to their other projects in need of assistance. Shelters had been established but they had a lack of funding and support which meant that children were not safe there. So many progressive laws had been passed but they were just not being implemented and those who were supposed to be implementing the laws were not being regulated
The Chairperson stated that the primary goal of the Committee was to implement solutions to those issues and to fix the oversights which were causing so much harm.
Ms M Nthonga, HoD: Department of Social Development, Free State Provincial Government, spoke about the issues in her province. She was concerned about instances of abuse on women and children in general and believed that there needed to be more than just social development: disciplinary actions were also necessary. There had been an increasing number of wellness campaigns, but there had also been an increased number of reports of abuse.
Ms Nthonga believed that that was not because it was getting worse, but because there was more awareness and support for those who came forward and victims were more willing to do so. Those campaigns should be continued, and victims should be encouraged to come forward.
Her Department had been working alongside the Free State Department of Education since there was. Unfortunately, a large number of abuses happening within schools. She referenced an incident which had happened in the Free State where a girl had been sexually assaulted on a school campus by a group of male fellow students. Her Department had been trying to quell those incidents by working with the School Governing Body. However, other measures were also needed and those needed to be coordinated. The was a need for the examination of the current gaps in enforcement which would explain why that was happening.
Her last statement was that there should be ongoing research of communities because the patterns were always changing.
Ms Dudley, speaking of statutory rape, asked the presenters what they suggested could be done to fix the problem. Young girls, twelve-year-olds, were brought to clinics by their abusers for abortions and no questions were asked. It was important to know where the current vulnerable areas were so that in moving forward, they would not be overlooked. Most of the funding was going towards crisis situations but not enough was going towards prevention. She spoke of an example of when people came to get water, the social workers in charge of water sanitation would give the people a means test to identify vulnerable families and communities. Her last question was whether the right audiences were being targeted for awareness campaigns. Schools were aware of vulnerable families and more work should be done to make schools safe places for children.
The Chairperson stated that Ms Nxumalo from the Department of Social Development, would be recording the questions and would be answering them after all questions had been asked.
Ms T Khanyile (DA) reiterated that all the departments should be fighting the issue and men should be incorporated into the fight as men were the main perpetrators of those crimes. Her only question was about the toll-free number displayed on the last slide of the presentation. Was that a toll-free number only for landlines or was it applicable to cell phones as well?
Dr Q Madlopha (ANC) disputed what the presenter had said. It was a societal matter since it affected everyone. Since it affected everyone, everyone needed to get involved and fight the issue. How should the matter be prevented? Why was there a problem with implementation? Institutions should be reporting when they had issues in implementing mandates.
She reiterated the issues about coordination and collaboration from stakeholders. Institutions were not collaborating and that was the cause of a lot of strife. Who was in charge of coordination? Social Development was failing in that regard. There was a problem; it just remained to be found.
Ms S Tsoleli (ANC) stated that in regard to statutory rape, the judicial system was failing. She questioned the Equality Commission on their bias. When one was raped, one was raped and whether one was a virgin or not should have nothing to do with it.
Ms van der Merwe was frustrated that Parliament was making moves to integrate the CGE into the Human Rights Commission which would mean that their work would be cancelled. However, her main issue was that the topic had been talked about for many years yet there was no evidence of real progress. The gaps in implementation and enforcement were known. The police had been sending away those who needed help. Each year, the Committee repeated the same things because no progress was being made. Nothing was happening because the people in charge of various departments were not doing their jobs. There was a crisis affecting the women and children, yet nothing was being done to help. The Committee was not awake to the realities the people are facing and so there is no progress.
Ms Masango said it looked like there had been plans to coordinate. One way was through the Plan of Action, but that was a five-year plan set to expire that year. What had happened to the plan? There should be a department in charge of that plan so that coordination was not even an issue and that department should claim responsibility.
The Chairperson stated that the tone of the conversation seemed to be directed towards the coordinator which was the Department of Social Development. Many members were complaining that social workers are given too much power and the position is seen as a way to access a position of even more power rather than helping those who they are intended to help. There were many departments looking into the empowerment of women but more important was safety. The economy would never be proficient without safety and that would never be possible if social issues were still consuming people. The Committee needed to instil into the people a consciousness of who they were, and it should be something they could take pride in. There was not much dedication to the profession of social workers. The Committee’s job was to make sure the professionals were performing their jobs.
Response by the Department of Social Development
Ms Nxumalo confirmed that the Plan of Action expired that year. The committee, which had established the Plan of Action in 2012, was led by the then and now Minister of Social Development. The committee had been created to study and report on the statistics of violence against children. The DDG clarified the issue of coordination. DSD was coordinating the victim empowerment in the sector. In 2012, Cabinet had created an inter-departmental Committee and she chaired the technical team. The issue of a gender-based council had been raised but it did not happen as Cabinet preferred a coordinating structure. The issue of coordination had to be discussed in context because even SANEC, the South African National Aids Council, developed a strategic guiding plan once every five years. The emphasis on prevention and promotion had to be invested in.
Because the committee had not been disbanded, it had been gathering information on a technical level and had been reviewing the Plan of Action in order to resubmit it. However, the focus was not just on finalizing the plan so that it protected the rights of all women and children and included men in the fight but was also planning its implementation which needed to be effective. In attempting to create better a coordination structure, her Department has been in collaboration with the Minister of Women and others. The emphasis on prevention and promotion should be non-negotiable; everyone should be invested enough to intervene.
In the new Plan of Action being created, there was to be more focus on listening to the voices of children because it was, otherwise, difficult to get to the root of the issue. The PoA had considered the role of traditional leaders and faith-based organisations. Something that the first plan had underestimated was the issue of substance abuse, and alcohol in particular, which started many cases of domestic violence.
Ms Nxumalo added that social workers and the police needed to be better prepared for abuse. There should be specific sectors of the police designated for that, and with the proper forensic equipment and records. That was necessary because current efforts were obviously not enough. Safe spaces needed to be created for children to play without there being cause to worry. Presently, parks and public spaces were not safe and that needed to change. The use of technology such as chips or gadgets was very important. The Vodacom panic buttons were very helpful. Social workers were scared to go into very violent communities as police were not always available to accompany them to homes.
There was a need for ongoing research because the abuse was ever-evolving and without understanding, it was difficult to address the problem. It was a societal issue and families needed to be strengthened.
Chairperson called a short break.
Briefing by SASSA via telephone
The Chairperson indicated that people who had come from the provinces wanted to find out what was happening at SASSA. They had to fly back to their provinces but could not go without information. The Committee had sought to delay the SASSA matter, but it had become a priority and had to be addressed in the meeting. The Chief Executive Officer of SASSA was in Gauteng dealing with the issues. The Chief Operating Officer of SASSA and the Chief Information Officer were in the meeting and would give input, but in terms of parliamentary rules, the Chief Executive Officer or DG had to report as the accounting officer. She could not allow a presentation without any ‘word of mouth’. She had, therefore, asked the Acting CEO to report over the telephone. She had him on the telephone and would ask him the questions that she had for SASSA.
Once the telephone connection had been made, the Chairperson put the call on speaker phone next to a microphone so that everyone in the meeting was able to hear the conversation.
The Chairperson asked the CEO to brief the Committee on the relationship with SAPO. Was the Department getting the best service? If there were issues, was he doing some work around that?
Mr Abraham Mahlangu, Acting Chief Executive Officer, SASSA, offered his apologies for his absence and explained that he was unable to attend the meeting because of the developments since midnight on 30 June 2018 when technical glitches had occurred on the SASSA IT infrastructure as a result of the number of people trying to use the new SASSA cards. The system was timing out after a certain number of minutes. It was the strain of multiple attempts to access the system by the beneficiaries. SAPO had coped in May and the post offices had paid 233,000 grants, but that number had shot up to over 930,000 in July and the system could not cope. Furthermore, the speed on the line connecting the SASSA payment system with the banks was just too slow, affecting processing. The volumes on the line had throttled the line.
There were also over-the-counter issues when a pensioner wanted to withdraw R1 680 pension grant as there was a cap of R1 500 per cash pay-out at the post offices which meant that beneficiaries wanting to draw a grant of more than R1 500 had been rejected. That cap had since been removed and beneficiaries could transact to the maximum of their benefit. At some of the franchises, in particular Spar stores, there had been problems because Spar banking services had not uploaded the new banking details, including the PIN numbers of the new SASSA cards. Pick ‘n Pay and other retailers had been able to pay grants.
Mr Mahlangu stated that once those problems had been addressed, he had arranged a meeting with critical stakeholders. He had had a meeting with the Reserve Bank, Bankserve, VISA, PASA and SAPO to resolve some of the issues. SASSA and SAPO had undertaken trial runs and so it was not quite clear how some of these issues had been left unresolved
The Chairperson asked Mr Mahlangu if he could assure the meeting that he was on top of the issues, or about to clear them up.
Mr Mahlangu assured the meeting that he had a full handle on the matter. The system performance had improved dramatically, and he was checking hourly. He was getting feedback from SAPO and regional SASSA teams on the ground. The system had improved from midnight the previous night. The reports were positive, and no relief measures were needed as queues would be cleared by the end of the day. He informed the meeting that the funds were in the banking accounts of the beneficiaries and the problem had been with accessing the money.
The Chairperson reminded him of the earlier queries and concerns regarding the computer systems. She informed him that it was very important that the regional SASSA officials liaised with the HoDs at provincial Departments of Social Development so that they could inform the MECs of the situation. It was good to be addressing the media, but all provincial governments should have the same understanding so that they could assure all beneficiaries that they would get their grants that week. Was he going to get on top of issues? He was supposed to be hands-on as the Chief Executive, but he had others and they should be able to stand in for him and be hands-on.
The Chairperson also asked him to ensure that people dealing directly with beneficiaries were kind and caring as beneficiaries were understandably anxious. She did not want the beneficiaries to be even more disgruntled that they already were.
The Acting CEO apologised to the Chairperson and the Committee and stated that he had apologised to the nation via the media and was giving hourly progress reports. The government was a caring government and did not intend to trouble the vulnerable. He had shared with them the problems and remedies. He would ensure that human relation skills were good at beneficiary level.
The Chairperson stated that she had not called on the Minister to account because the CEO was responsible, and the Committee would always take the fight to him. She thanked him and understood his absence. She did not, however, encourage absence.
The Acting CEO committed to dealing with the situation fairly aggressively and assured everyone that the following month would not see any glitches in the pay-out of grants.
The Chairperson gave the provinces an opportunity to ask questions of clarity so that when they spoke about the issues, there would be no grey areas.
Ms Drienie Samson, HoD: Social Development, Northern Cape Provincial Government, told the Committee that she had witnessed a chaotic situation the previous day. The main problem area was that the beneficiaries had not been informed as no one had communicated with them properly. Obviously, there would be problems as it was a period of transition. But the shift from cash was a problem for old people who had forgotten their PIN numbers and had been turned away. SASSA officials were absent from the pay-out locations. She believed that SASSA should have had a help desk at each pay point. Showing compassion was essential, but there had been no sensitivity from the post office staff, even when there was devastation as post offices ran out of money and turned people away. The queues had to be shortened and chairs had to be provided for the older persons. In the Northern Cape, there were about 4 000 people without money. Communication and a helpdesk at the pay points were the important issues.
The Chairperson said that it had been agreed that EPWP people were to have been placed at all pay points to assist with issues such as PIN numbers. She was very disappointed as the issues that Ms Samson raised were issues that had been addressed and plans had been made to deal with those possibilities. She knew that people had not wanted to go to the post offices because they were worried about the situation there.
Mr van Staden was particularly concerned about the absence of SASSA people in the post offices. There was almost a stampede and it was not nice to see. Everyone knew the volumes that had to be dealt with on payday. There were no chairs and the post office environment was not conducive to old people. SASSA had to improve the venues for them. The absence of people who could explain to them what to expect. The Post Office staff were a different type of public servant and just said that they were closing at 5pm, or that there was no money. It was a corporate environment that was foreign to the beneficiaries. SASSA could not just hand over to SAPO; SASSA still had to take care of the people and take responsibility for the pay-out environments. He stressed that communication was important so that provincial governments knew what was happening.
The Chairperson agreed that the provincial governments had to know what was happening. She asked that an apology be given to the people. The people were scared that they would be in difficulties if they went to the Post Office and now they had been thrown under the bus. She was concerned because she had promoted the use of the Post Office. She did not feel confident going to the media after the meeting as she had been vocal about how the system would work.
Ms Weziwe Thusi, MEC for Social Development, KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government, was disappointed because nothing was communicated to the provinces. She had to say that the provincial department had done their best to assist but she was concerned about the absence of SASSA people at the pay points. She was sure that people would have found comfort if that had been the case.
Ms Limakatso Mahasa, MEC for Social Development, Free State Provincial Government, did not want to repeat what her colleagues had said. Communication cut across all provinces. The main problem was the PIN number. The old people forgot the numbers, but they could not write them down as someone, even from the family, could get hold of the PIN and use it to access their bank accounts. The use of fingerprints had to be considered.
Mr Mahlalela, from Mpumalanga, agreed that his province had experienced the same challenges as the Northern Cape. No one had known what was happening. SASSA had to provide a single document with all the relevant information so that all the provinces could communicate the same information.
Ms Khanyile said that the main plea was for communication. She had had two sessions with SASSA and made inputs, but her Department was not being listened to by SASSA. Could SASSA listen when the DSD officials spoke? The issues that the CEO had reported were issues that would have been known if there had been a proper risk assessment. SAPO was the service provider. SASSA was the provider. She had had to personally intervene as people were threatening to burn down the post office in central Pietermaritzburg. She had called SASSA, but they had blamed SAPO. DSD was left out, but it was the first port of call when there was a crisis and DSD was expected to manage the situation.
The Chairperson stated that Committee Members were worried that key issues had not been attended to. The staff in the post offices were very old and struggled to cope with IT, etc. A key presentation had been made about the need to provide human resource support to SAPO. Well-trained people had to be introduced to the post office. The system needed learnerships so that young people could enter the post office once they had learnt the skills. The money that had been spent on CPS should be used to impart skills to young people. She would take it up with the Minister. She added that elderly people were easily irritated and had to be handled carefully.
She informed the HoDs that the Committee was always ready to hear any issues because the Committee did not want problems. If the provincial people could not talk to the Minister, the Portfolio Committee could always speak to the Minister on their behalf.
There was no presentation by SASSA, but the presentation was in the package handed out to Members and she hoped that everyone would read the presentation so that he or she could respond to the matters. She thanked the provincial colleagues for attending the meeting.
Ms van der Merwe had some clarity seeking questions. Why had there been no trial run? If there had been, SASSA and SAPO should have picked up some of the issues, such as the capping. In terms of numbers, she asked how many beneficiaries had been afflicted by the glitch. How many had been paid and when would they be paid? There was conflicting information in the media.
In respect of communications, she was aware that in the past, SASSA had communicated very well with beneficiaries whenever there was a glitch but this time around, there had been no communication with beneficiaries. Beneficiaries had waited for hours in the rain in the Western Cape. SASSA staff had been rude and simply told people to go to SAPO. How was the strike impacting on the pay-out to beneficiaries? Minister Shabangu had said in court that day that the strike was impacting on the glitches.
When was the Minister meeting the unions? Had there been any progress in resolving the strike? Her concern was not only the long queues but also the fact that when people had applied for their cards, they had been told that systems were offline or that there were no cards available, especially in the small towns.
Ms Masango asked if there was to be a presentation by SASSA.
The Chairperson replied that there would not be a presentation as she had wanted the CEO to report on the current situation, and time was not on their side as Members had to go back to their constituencies that afternoon.
Ms Masango asked what she should say if she received a WhatsApp asking when a person would receive payment. She also wanted to say that the SASSA management had been very helpful when she had had queries, and in meetings, but when she had wanted to support people who wanted to get new cards, she had been told that she could not assist. She would have thought that SASSA would have welcomed the support as so many people had needed help. People had been taken away from the old systems and told to use the new cards, but the system had not accommodated the change.
The Chairperson asked SASSA to respond to the questions.
Ms Dianne Dunkerley, Chief Operating Officer, SASSA, added her sincere apology for the problems that had been experienced. She confirmed that SASSA was monitoring the system on an hourly basis. The system was stabilising. Beneficiaries did not have to go to the post office to access funds but could go to other pay-out locations. The problem was confined to the new SASSA cards, that was 700 000 of the 10.8 million beneficiaries. She was not trivialising the problem as she accepted that it was a huge problem. She told MPs that beneficiaries would be able to access their grant either at a bank ATM, a point of sale, retailer or a post office. The money was in the accounts of all beneficiaries. The challenge had arisen when they had tried to withdraw that cash with the new SASSA cards. By 5 or 6 July, at the latest, everyone would be able to access their money.
Ms Dunkerley stated that a trial run had been undertaken. The problem had arisen because of the sheer number of people withdrawing funds. She added that it was understandable as beneficiaries had new cards and they were anxious to know that the cards worked and that they would get their money, so everyone had tried to access funds on the first and second days.
The Chairperson pointed out that the IT system had been tested in Parliament and she had phoned the beneficiaries who had tried out their new cards during the demonstration in Parliament and all had received their grant. However, she did agree that the problems could have been anticipated if proper risk assessments had been undertaken. She also thought that SAPO had not used the EPWP workers that the Department had offered to provide. SAPO had tried to run it alone.
She asked Members to restrict their questions to the grants and the abuse that the beneficiaries had been subjected to.
Ms Abrahams stated that she had been very busy in her constituency for the past two weeks. On behalf of her province, she had a couple of questions. The main problem had been in relation to the releasing of the money. People had stood outside in queues in very cold weather as there were not enough sufficient cashiers. She also wanted to know if the area managers' offices were linked to SAPO and, if not, how could that gap be closed. Communication was very, very bad. She had asked SAPO to provide information about what was going on because those people did not have access to cars to drive back and forth. Beneficiaries started queueing at 4am. SASSA had issued some communication, but it was not accessible to beneficiaries. Beneficiaries could not go on Thursday and then back again on Friday if they could not be helped.
Ms Abrahams noted that the CEO had spoken about relief parcels but the logistics of getting relief parcels out within a couple of days were just impossible. She had received endless complaints about rude staff. The PIN number was a major problem. People were used to going to a pay point where they were cared for and could shelter from the weather. Everyone who had gone to a pay point now went to the post office and the carpark in her complex was packed with the cars of beneficiaries waiting for grants at the post office. She suggested that a bulk pay-out be made over the weekend so that everyone could communicate with confidence and tell the people when to go and collect their money.
Ms Dudley indicated that Ms Abrahams had covered all of her questions.
The Chairperson suggested that, to be honest, it might be that the Committee had been too hard on the transformation because of the pressures that they had been experiencing, especially that of getting rid of CPS. The Committee was not apologetic for rushing matters, but sometimes one forgot that one was working with people and not machinery. There had not been many options and SAPO had, in the end, been the only route. SASSA should not be blamed, but the Committee should go back to SASSA and ask them what the roadmap had been in terms of the system.
Members had to remember that SAPO had not had a banking licence and measures had to be taken to resolve that issue. Furthermore, when SAPO was in difficulties, its human resources had little to do and it had lost staff. However, government had decided not to outsource the payment of grants but to make use of a facility that was underutilised. Strengths had been identified, but so had those particular weaknesses been identified. The EPWP people had stood for hours at the post offices to get their payments, so how did people think that the post offices would have done better with SASSA accounts? Those were the realities to be faced. She noted that CPS had made sure that, despite the strike, payments had gone out.
The Chairperson suggested that a new roadmap be worked out by SASSA and SAPO and a checklist should be drawn up so that it would be easy to check what had been done and what had not been done. She wanted to know where SAPO had fallen short. The Committee would work with SASSA and SAPO to improve the situation. Treasury had said that it would support the process, as had the Reserve Bank. They had to stand up and be counted.
Ms Dudley said that promises had been made to give SAPO support. She suggested that the Committee should follow up and see whether SAPO had actually been supported so that the Committee could follow up if support had not been given.
The Chairperson asked Members to read the hand-out from SASSA as it had not been presented, as well as the reports on child abuses and killings. The Committee had to be analytic and to determine what had gone wrong. Government could not rely on old strategies to manage the crisis. An immediate change was required. The killing of children meant that directors had to prepare for the Minister to make a bold announcement. SA could not be silent on the killings. It was an embarrassment. No one could not rely on plans that were not implemented. Women were being raped everywhere. It was not a political agenda; it was a reality that faced the country. The analysis was critical. The duty of any leadership was to listen to the people and the time had come to listen to the cries of babies. KZN had scheduled prayers. That was at least acknowledging the crimes. The job of Social Development was to save the children. A real problem was that families closed up and dealt with child abuse within the family, behind closed doors.
She appreciated the attendance of everyone at the meeting, especially the Members. The Committee would await communication about the way forward. Members did not want a workshop or a structure but simply a plan of action to combat child abuse and gender-based violence. She called for renewed efforts and for people to hear the cries of the people, especially the children.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Grant Payments; Interventions taken to Deal with the Escalating Statistics of Rape and Kidnapping of Children: SAHRC, CGE, DSD & MECs Input 1
- Grant Payments; Interventions taken to Deal with the Escalating Statistics of Rape and Kidnapping of Children: SAHRC, CGE, DSD & MECs Input 2
- Grant Payments; Interventions taken to Deal with the Escalating Statistics of Rape and Kidnapping of Children: SAHRC, CGE, DSD & MECs Input 3