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Durban - Two Home Affairs officials thought to be at the centre of a child support grant fraud syndicate have been granted bail of R2000 in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court.

Sbani Clementine Mtshali, 40, and Xoliswa Mfoboza, 50, who are believed to be the mastermind of a syndicate were arrested last Friday by members of the Home Affairs Department’s provincial Counter Corruption and Security Unit.

Their arrest followed a tip-off to the unit about the fraudulent issuing of birth certificates to children of foreign nationality born in South Africa, and uncovered a “ghost child”. The child did not exist, but someone was receiving a related child-support grant.

The state did not oppose bail when Mtshali and Mfoboza appeared separately on the charge of contravening the birth registration Act.

Mtshali wore a black velvet dress and had a scarf wrapped around her head to cover her face to hide from the members of the media who packed the court room.

Their matters were adjourned to 14 May.

The pair were identified as the main suspects in the syndicate when the Hawks, the Home Affairs’ unit and Pietermaritzburg Public Order Police raided the Richmond offices on Friday.

According to provincial Home Affairs spokesperson Cyril Mncube, the unit had received a tip-off about the corruption and had been investigating these allegations at the Richmond offices for months. He said once the relevant evidence was available, the unit had included the Hawks in its investigation.

“We had initially uncovered that the officials were involved in the issuing of birth registration certificates to children of foreign nationality. We found that out of three birth registrations, one was of a ghost child. Our investigation further discovered that someone was receiving a child support grant for the ghost child,” said Mncube.

While it was not yet clear how the officials benefited, it was alleged that the birth certificates were sold for the purposes of applying for the grant.

“At the moment, we do not know how much the birth registrations were sold for. The investigation is yet to establish the number of fraudulent birth registrations the two officials produced. We are currently only aware of the one case,” said Mncube.

Hawks provincial spokesperson Simphiwe Mhlongo said the women were apparently the masterminds behind the illegal issuing of late registration birth certificates.

“We swooped on the Richmond offices and found the two officials, who were on duty. We worked together with the Home Affairs officials and they were immediately arrested. We took them to their homes where a search was conducted and we found social grant cards, Home Affairs documents and identity documents.”

Mhlongo said corruption charges might be added as the investigations continued.

SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) provincial spokesperson Mbizeni ­Mdlalose said the problem of ghost children had led to them embarking on review programmes aimed at verifying that the children who benefited from the child support grants existed.

He said while parents of a child born in South Africa were eligible to receive a child grant, the child’s parents would have to be in the country legally. If they were not legal residents, the child would still be eligible for a child support grant, if there was proof that the child had been born in South Africa, but certain procedures had to be followed.

Mdlalose said because of a great deal of fraud involved in Sassa grants, hefty punishments were imposed on fraudulent recipients once caught.

Daily News