Any interruption to the grant payments will be devastating for the recipients, says the writer. File picture: Willem Law
The crisis in the grants system is symptomatic of a profound rot in the state, writes Imraan Buccus.

Land reform, housing and school education are in sustained crisis. Most of the promise of the Mandela years lies in tatters. But one of the things we’ve always celebrated in SA is the fact that we have the most extensive social welfare network on the African continent.

We did really well at bucking the global trend around curbing social welfare expenditure, despite pressure from the masters of neo-liberalism. Our system of social grants has put our country at the cutting edge of new developments in social democratic policy in the global South.

In fact, the academics that bang on year after year about neo-liberalism are missing the point, and spectacularly so. Grants are a redistributive measure and we have one of the largest cash transfer programmes in the world.

Empirical evidence points to the fact that social grants have contributed greatly to reducing poverty in SA. Grants do not substitute for jobs, and need to be supported by job creation and a commitment to enforcing a minimum wage. But millions of people, and their families, rely on social grants.

The system should be extended and expanded, and we need to get to the point where there is a guaranteed basic income for all people not in employment. But the fact that we have the system should not be taken likely. It is a real achievement.

Any interruption to the grant payments will be devastating for the recipients; and indeed for the ANC. This would cause huge damage to the ANC’s voter base and would rapidly escalate the ongoing decline in ANC support.

The whole country has watched - with something of the fascination at which people look at a car accident - as the ANC has allowed the crisis around the grant system to degenerate to the extent that it has.

We get the impression this debacle is caught up in a web of patronage. What else would explain the minister’s insistence that CPS be allowed to continue with its contract despite the Constitutional Court ruling?

Norman Arendse, the advocate who served on the then tender committee, did well to expose that he was offered a bribe by senior CPS officials. This provided the first concrete glimpse into the murky world of the grant payment tender irregularity. Hopefully further information will emerge in due course to clarify exactly who stands to benefit from this crisis.

The corruption and profiting in the grants system is not only a matter of how the contract to disburse grants is awarded.

As the courageous little publication GroundUp has made clear, grant recipients are being subject to all kinds of scams that result in deductions from their payments and into the hands of private capital. There are often unauthorised deductions and sometime grants recipients don’t receive any money at all after deductions for loans, airtime and funeral policies.

This is the worst kind of predatory exploitation of the poor.

The state should never have allowed this to happen. There should be no deductions from grants. They should be ringfenced from predatory forces.

At a time when the ANC, often via fake news, is trying to generate hysteria about white monopoly capital the biggest shareholder in CPS is Allan Gray. Gray himself is known as one of the richest men in Africa.

Originally from East London, he now runs his $40billion dollar company from a tax haven in Bermuda. Gray funds programmes in what he calls "leadership ethics", but profits from a deeply dubious company that conducts its business on an illegal and unethical basis.

But while the looters within the ANC are silent about Allan Gray they are, predictably, misusing the crisis, the crisis they have created, to continue their assault on the Treasury which has insisted, quite rightly, that the payment of grants must conform to the law. This has been misrepresented as some sort of obstruction.

Whatever the real relation between CPA and the looters in the ANC turns out to be, one thing is for sure - the looters are not running the state in the interests of the poor or the people. There is clearly serious skulduggery at play.

A rational state, committed to the rule of law and the well-being of its most marginalised citizens, would simply never have allowed the situation to degenerate in this way.

We have watched institution after institution be captured by predatory forces. Eskom, SAA and Sars have all gone the same way. The battle for the integrity of the Treasury is not yet over and there have been signs the battle for the integrity of the courts is about to get going in earnest.

Instead of a rational state that serves its people with integrity and in accordance with the law, we are increasingly facing a future in which the state is an instrument of predation for a few powerful families.

The crisis in the grants system is symptomatic of a profound rot in the state, one that is a real threat to our future.

* Buccus is senior research associate at ASRI, research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a university study abroad programme on political transformation.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent