File photo: African News Agency (ANA)
DURBAN - The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) is embarking on a review programme that will verify whether children who are benefiting from the government child support grants actually exist.

The move comes after two Richmond Home Affairs officials, who allegedly registered “ghost” children and foreigners to receive Sassa grants, were arrested last Friday.

Sbani Clementine Mtshali, 40, and Xoliswa Mfoboza, 50, appeared in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court facing charges of fraud and contravening the Births and Registrations Act yesterday. They are believed to be the masterminds behind a syndicate.

They were both granted R2000 bail after spending the weekend in custody.

Mtshali, dressed in a black velvet dress, covered her head and face when she appeared before Magistrate Dawn Soomaroo.

Both Mtshali and Mfoboza, who appeared in court separately, work at the Home Affairs office in Richmond, although it is believed that the scam has been operating across the province.

The Home Affairs Counter-Corruption and Security Unit had received a tip-off about the matter and had been investigating the allegations at the Richmond offices for months.

Once the relevant evidence was available, the unit included the Hawks in its investigation.

Provincial Home Affairs spokesperson Cyril Mncube said the Home Affairs unit initially discovered 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,” he said.

“The investigation has yet to establish the number of fraudulent birth registrations the two officials produced. We are currently only aware of the one case,” said Mncube.

The provincial spokesperson for Sassa, Mbizeni ­Mdlalose, said the problem of ghost children had led to them embarking on review programmes.

Mdlalose said that while the 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 have to be followed”.

Mdlalose said that due to a great deal of fraud involved in Sassa grants, hefty sentences were imposed on fraudulent recipients once they were caught.

Hawks spokesperson Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo said more arrests were imminent as investigations were continuing, specifically into the beneficiaries of the government grants.

“The integrated team swooped on the two at their offices and then proceeded to their places of residence where a number of Sassa grant cards, a list of identity document numbers, identity document books and Home Affairs documents were found,” Mhlongo said.

He said that further charges could not be ruled out as the investigations were continuing.