Decommissioning South African Social Services: Participatory Field Research in Delft

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General Issues
Social Welfare
Human Rights & Civil Rights
Specific Topics
Human Rights
Low-income Assistance
Pensions & Retirement
Cape Town
Western Cape
South Africa
Scope of Influence
Metropolitan Area
Parent of this Case
Participatory Research on the Decommissioning of South African Social Services
Start Date
End Date
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time

A case study of the Delft township as part of a participatory research initiative on the decommissioning of the South African Social Services (SASSA) social grant pay points.

Problems and Purpose

This is component of a participatory research project developed and implemented jointly between the University of the Western Cape and Black Sash. As a whole, the project explores the decommissioning of the South African Social Services (SASSA). As part of the decommissioning, old pay points and the former payment structure have been replaced by the South African Post Office (SAPO). In addition to SAPO grants may also be accessed at, commercial banks and selected retailers. This has resulted in a greater number of recipients  accessing their grants through Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). This component of the research project is a case study of these changes in grant access focusing on recipients in the Delft township

Background History and Context

Delft is the first of the four case studies to be researched and is also one of two urban locations used in the UWC/Black Sash  research project. Delft is located in Cape Town roughly 26 km from the CBD. Delft was established in 1989 as a township for Coloured and Black African people. Presently, Coloured people account for 51% of the population, Black African people 46% and 3% are classified as other.

Delft is a large township covering approximately 11.08 km2. Owing to its large size it  is divided into eight sub areas namely, Delft South (also known as Suburban), Voorbrug, Leiden (Delft Central), Eindhoven, Roosendal, The Hague, Symphony and Blikkiesdorp. The participants used for this case study came from areas across Delft. Delft is a high crime area with a large presence of gangs and gang related crimes. Issues of safety were of a high concern to most participants who noted that the unsafe living conditions made them weary of accessing their grants.

Prior to the decommissioning of SASSA pay points, recipients were able to collect their money at the pay points located at the Delft South Public Hall/Library and in the Delft Civic Centre/Library. Since the decommissioning recipients are now able to receive their grants at the Delft Post Office (located in Voorbrug which is  also the only Post office in Delft), selected retailers and at ATMs. While grant recipients are able to access their grants in a variety of places problems with safety, service delivery and lengthy queues and travel times to pay areas persist.

For more information on the background history of SASSA and the joint research project between UWC and Black Sash, see the parent case entry.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The entire research project is organised and funded through a collaborative project between Black Sash, University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Participedia. The component case research in Delft is specifically funded and organised through UWC and Black Sash.

To support these entities local community based organisations (CBO) working with Black Sash are used to help source participants for the research. As a civil society organisation Black Sash partners with CBOs to facilitate it’s goal of community engagement with government. Through Black Sash researchers are able to connect with relevant CBOs in the four chosen case studies. In Delft the CBO is Hope 4 Destiny, a non-governmental organisation that raises awareness on topical issues such as HIV/AIDS and abuse to the broader Delft community.

For more information on the organizers of the full research project on SASSA’s decommissioning, see the parent case entry.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Of the four cases in the overall study, Delft is one of two urban sites. The researchers’ assumption is that decommissioning will affect rural and urban recipients differently, with urban areas less affected in terms of distance and time to travel than rural.

Delft was also selected as it is a mostly coloured and poor settlement, with a sizable number of black African and foreign residents too. It is reasonably close to the overall demography of Cape Town.  It has a reputation for being a relatively unsafe area with a number of drug gangs – again not uncommon in poor, urban areas of the city.

Lastly, the residents were recruited through the Black Sash advice office operating in Delft, and are well known to the NGO workers there. Through the assistance of Hope 4 Destiny, ten participants were sourced for the three day research process. The provision of food and travel costs for the participants are provided for by the CBO who receives a stipend from Black Sash.

Methods and Tools Used

The design of this project draws upon exploratory qualitative previously undertaken by Black Sash. The research is qualitative overall, although various kinds of data - quantitative and qualitative, numerical, written, oral and visual  - will be collected. In Delft, as in all sites, the following participatory research methods, tools and techniques were used:

a.) focus groups: A discussion held between no more than ten participants led by a facilitator/researcher.

b.) interviews: Individually administered series of questions to participants.

c.) observation: Annotating of participants and their environment by researchers.

d.) River of Life: Participatory research tool that gets participants to draw their experiences.

e.) Body mapping: Participatory research tool that gets participants to explain the effects of an experience on their body and in relation to it.

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The research engaged with five key variables tested through the variety of  research tools:time, finance, dignity, opportunity cost and distance. The individual participant interviews, focus groups and observation schedule were used to collect factual and perceptual data on the grant experience. Together with this researchers also administered to participants two participatory research tasks. The first of these was the River of Life. The River of life enabled participants to subjectively reflect on the grant experience using a visual narrative method. This method involved getting participants to reflect on their grant experience by representing it as a river. Each obstacle, challenge or highlight of the journey was annotated on the river and then presented back to the group.

In conjunction with the River of Life participants also engaged in a body mapping exercise.   Body mapping is a narrative method that is used to gain an understanding of oneself and our bodies in relation to the world we live in. This method was used to hone in on the dignity variable to allow participants to create narratives of the effect of the decommissioning process on themselves. Participants drew an outline of their bodies (drawn to scale) and painted/decorated their body maps to express emotional responses to the decommissioning process and to present associated issues of the decommissioning. The body maps were also used to show the physical effect on the body such as stress and excitement that the day of grant receiving brings.

The research is designed in two phases: i.) fieldwork and ii) products. The fieldwork phase comprises of three,  non-consecutive, days of data gathering. During the fieldwork phase of Delft researchers were engaged in the following:

i.) Fieldwork Phase

  • Day 1-workshop: Tuesday 5 February, involved the researchers meeting with the grant recipients, as organised by the Partner community-based organisation (CBO) of Black Sash. The day involved explaining the project, securing ethical clearance and conducting ‘rivers of life,’ a participatory activity designed to learn about grant collection day experiences.
  • Day 2-grant recipient travel: Monday 4th February, involved researchers travelling with selected participants to collect their money, and interviewing, observing and photographing the process of the day.
  • Day 3-workshop: Friday 15th February, involved a debrief, where the findings of the report were presented back to the participants and workshopped, this included  a participatory ‘body mapping’ exercise.

The products phase of the research will completed once all four case study sites are completed. This phase is to be completed between April to May 2019 and will include:

  • Ongoing findings from each research site published on the Participedia website.
  • The production of a project report by the end of May
  • The production of one or more documentary videos of the research process, published on the Participedia website

The use of different research instruments has yielded different findings. The use of five different research instruments have allowed researchers to gather data that were unique to each instrument and  also with findings which appeared across research instruments. While not related to the purpose of this study an important finding of the research has been that the use of multiple and various types of research tools are significant for the wealth of data collected. It has also functioned as a way for researchers to triangulate data by making cross checking of facts easier and allowing for the discerning of emerging patterns, themes and major issues across the five variables of the study: time, distance, cost, opportunity cost and dignity. The triangulation of data has assured the veracity of the research claims and findings.  Through the use of a multi-pronged research approach researchers were able to gain a greater insight into the different data collected by each research instrument and were able to compare and contrast it to one another. This has helped to rank the significance of the main finding of the research in Delft. Overall each research tool provided the following data:

  1. Survey: Provided data on time, distance, money and crime. The survey was also useful in that it could confirm facts.
  2. Observation: The observation tool was useful to researchers in that they could observe things about the participants and their environment that participants themselves were not as readily able to discern. Through this tool researchers were able to note that walking to collect grants were a problem for the disabled and the elderly and that there was a widespread fear of being robbed.
  3. Focus group: The focus group was held on Day 3 of the research process and evolved from a plenary discussion on the results and findings. Unique to this tool was that researchers were able to note the systemic problems of the grant payment process and the aspect of crime related to the payment of grants.
  4. Body-mapping: The body mapping exercise was the only activity in which participants were able to express that in some measure, despite problems of crime or otherwise, there remained a level of excitement and happiness at receiving ones grant. The issue of crime was picked up here again.
  5. River of life: The river of life was an important tool to highlight the significant impact of crime on the lives of participants as it relates to their grant collection. During this exercise participants noted that their entire journey, going and coming, revolved around the ever present threat of danger.

Multiple instruments therefore help to pick out unique features that may otherwise been overlooked. Triangulating the findings across these instruments have allowed researchers to identify the main problems and to rank, according to significance, the overall findings. These findings are:

  1. Fear of being robbed

This was discovered during the survey, focus group, river of life and body mapping. One participant described that to protect himself and to stay ahead of potential robbers, when he draws his money at the ATM he places it in his pocket. He then goes inside the bank and takes the money out of his pocket to place in his wallet. This precautionary step serves to confuse any potential onlookers or robbers who may be interested in his money. The fear of crime was expressed by one participant in the following way:

“You are the rabbit and the lions choose the weak ones to rob. Payday vultures are watching you”.

Another participant reiterated this by saying:

“ The first of the month is payday for everyone, including the vultures”.

2.  Systemic issues

Prior to the decommissioning of SASSA pay points, grant recipients were able to collect their grants at a dedicated site. At these pay points SASSA officials were present to assist with any queries or problems. Additionally the accessing of grants was secured through a fingerprint biometric system. This meant that only the grant recipient would be able to collect his/her money. This was an active deterrent against fraud and money lenders. The payment system and payment infrastructure for SASSA was provided for by Cash Paymaster Services (CPS). They provided a dedicated payment system for SASSA. However, from as early as 2012 problems were detected with illegal and unethical deductions from social grants to small lenders facilitated by CPS. By 2018 a Constitutional Court decision, spurred on by the protests and advocacy work of Black Sash, ruled that CPS should no longer provide its services to SASSA and that a new payment system should be introduced. This led to the partnership with the South African Postal Service (SAPO). SAPO however is not the only place at which grant beneficiaries can collect their monies. In addition to SAPO beneficiaries may also collect their money at selected retailers like Shoprite, Boxer and Pick n Pay. Beneficiaries can also have their money deposited into a private bank account which can be accessed at ATMs.

SASSA migrated its beneficiaries over to a new bank card issued through Post Bank. This card can be used at the post office and only the beneficiary may collect his/her money there. What has emerged is that the variate nature of receiving ones grant has led to confusion among grant recipients. Most notably participants during the focus group and survey seemed unsure of the following:

i). The different types of cards used to access social grants. There are three cards that beneficiaries can use: a green Easypay card (associated with Net1 and CPS), a blue Mzansi card (used by the Post Bank) and a orange and gold SASSA card (issued through SASSA and SAPO). Participants simply referred to cards as ‘SASSA cards’ and were not easily able to identify which cards belonged to which banks or institutions and how that affected the way in which they were able to receive their grants.

ii.) Bank charges and withdrawal charges. Participants were unsure how much they paid in monthly fees for their personal bank, charges for swiping their cards and withdrawal charges. Some participants also noted that retailers such as Shoprite charged them a fee to withdraw their money at tills.

iii.)  Withdrawal limits. A related issue to that of bank and withdrawal charges was that of withdrawal limits. Participants were unsure of how much they could withdraw at time at the ATM, post office and at retailers.

iv.) Technical difficulties with the new payment system. During the focus groups and through observation researchers were able to ascertain that some of the confusion surrounding part of the aforementioned issues was due to technical problems with the new SASSA/SAPO interface. Participants had highlighted a problem that when they went to collect their money at the post office they were told that it could not be accessed.  Participants reported that they would put in their pin codes three or four time but to no avail and then would be informed that they were locked out of the account and would have to return the following day. This was due to problems with payment interface not operating adequately enough. Confusion revolved around beneficiaries with the ‘old SASSA card’ being able to access their grants with relative ease. Through further probing this card was identified to be the Easypay card which is not the former SASSA card but instead a bank card of Net1 who also owns CPS. This card remains active and grant beneficiaries may still use them to access their grants despite the contract between CPS and SASSA being terminated. These problems have arisen due to the shift from a dedicated payment system to multiple alternatively purposed systems. In other words, to payment systems whose primary service is not to provide beneficiaries with their grant money.

3. Dignity

The problems associated with a loss or lack of dignity/dignified service were captured through the use of the survey, focus group, body mapping and observation. With the use of these tools researchers were able to note that elderly persons were severely affected by walking to and from the various pay sites. The journey was made longer by their slower pace and general difficulties in walking. In particular the homeward journey was far longer and more stressful because they were already tired from the earlier walk and were more scared of being robbed having just received their money. The dignity of participants was also affected by their having to stand in long lines without food, shelter and access to toilets. Participants noted that at the Delft Mall where some collect their money at Shoprite, that the toilets were not free to the public and cost R2. Most participants noted that they could not afford this because they were yet to receive their grant monies. If they desperately needed the toilet they would have to beg others for money or simply wait till they returned home. One participant noted that:

“One day I needed the toilet at Shoprite and I had no money. I asked the people and they said no. I waited so long to get home that on the way I wet myself”.

4. Minimal changes to other variables

The last of the overall findings is that there was a small change discernible in terms of time, distance and costs. This was ascertained through the use of the survey and observation.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The research team of Prof  Laurence Piper and research assistants Sondre Bailey and Robyn Pasensie have been in regular contact with Participedia via Jesi Carson and Scott Fletcher to develop the parent case and this case, to get both ready for publication on the Participedia website. This marks a novel use of cases on the platform by documenting cases in advance of and during their implementation. This research is piloting a new way of cataloging and presenting information for Participedia.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

To be added at the conclusion of the research in all four case sites.

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