Decommissioning South African Social Services: Participatory Field Research in Genadendal

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General Issues
Social Welfare
Human Rights & Civil Rights
Specific Topics
Pensions & Retirement
Low-income Assistance
Western Cape
South Africa
Scope of Influence
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
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
University of the Western Cape, The Black Sash Trust, Participedia
Type of Funder
Academic Institution
International Organization
Non-Governmental Organization

A case study of the Genadendal rural community 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 a component case of a collaborative research project between University of the Western Cape and Black Sash. Overall the research explores the effect of the decommissioning of the  old SASSA (South African Social Services Agency) pay points and it’s former payment structure. It has now been replaced by a payment infrastructure provided for by the South African Post Office (SAPO). Additionally grant recipients may also receive their money 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 Robertson rural community.

Background History and Context

Gendadendal is situated within the Overberg Municipality of which Grabouw, Caledon, Hermanus, Bredasdorp and Swellendam are the major town. Caledon at 31.3km from Gendadendal, is its closest town.  Genandendal began as a Moravian mission town and presently has a population of just over 5000 people. Genandendal is unique as a rural town because it does not have a post office or large retailers or mall. The small town only has two ATMs and very little other community facilities or resources.

Genadendal is populated by poor low-income households and with no urbanised town centre. It is a predominantly coloured town with a small population of foreign nationals and very few black African (South African) inhabitants.

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 Genadendal 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 Genadendal the CBO is the Genadendal Legal Information Desk (GLID). GLID provides independent legal advice to residents of Genadendal and also assists with general administrative duties such as birth certificates and social grants. Additionally GLID also provides home care services for the sick and elderly.

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

Participant Recruitment and Selection

or the overall research project  the four component cases were selected to reflect both urban and rural settings. The Robertson component case is an example of a rural setting. 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 in  rural areas .

Genadendal is the second rural case to be researched. Genadendal is situated approximately 136 km (1hr40min) from Cape Town. It was chosen because it presents issues unique to rural areas such as limited facilities available to access grants and it has a large number of poor or economically disadvantaged residents. Gendadendal is a mostly Coloured area with some black African and foreign residents. Gendadendal is not as built up as it’s other rural comparison in this research, Robertson. Genadendal was selected because it is a small (population is just over 5000) mostly poor settlement  situated in the Overberg region of the Western Cape. It is unique because it relies on the larger town of Caledon to provide more economic, retail, banking and other resources. The participants for the research in Genadendal were recruited through the Black Sash advice office operating in Genadendal. Black Sash’s partnership is with the Genadendal Legal Information Desk (GLID) which assists residents with legal advice and administrative duties such as help to acquire IDs and birth certificates. Through the assistance of GLID fifteen participants were sourced for the three day research process. The provision of food and travel costs for the participants are provided for by GLID who receives a stipend from Black Sash. Participants were mostly elderly persons who received old age grants. Old age grants are the second largest grant type to be paid out and comes second to child support grants.

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 Robertson, 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 as a river.

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 a variety of  research tool. These five variables are: 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 Robertson researchers were engaged in the following:

i.) Fieldwork Phase

  • Day 1-workshop: Thursday 28  March, involved the researchers meeting with the grant recipients, as organised by the partner organisation of Black Sash, Genadendal Legal Information Desk. 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: Friday 29 March, involved researchers travelling with selected participants to collect their money, and interviewing, observing and photographing the process of the day.
  • Day 3-workshop: Friday 5 April, was a debrief for the Genadendal community which presented to them the interim findings.

The products phase of the research will be completed once all four case study sites have been conducted. 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

On Thursday 28th March, researchers from the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) conducted a workshop and interviews with 15 recipients of social grants in Genadendal, Western Cape. The focus of the workshop on 28 March was on recipients experience of the change in the allocation of social grants from the SASSA pay point system to the new system.

Following the workshop researchers conducted a follow along with participants as they went about collecting their grants. This took place on Friday 29 March. This process involved participant interviews and observation.

The day 1 workshop was comprised of 15 participants of whom all were coloured, representing roughly the demographics of Genadendal. Of the 15 participants 9 were female and 6 were male. The average age of the group was 63.

Results per variable:

  1. Finances  

A significant difference is evident in the increased cost of accessing social grants. As the graph below demonstrates, the cost of accessing grants has increased for all participants

The previous pay system was available to grant recipients in a community hall in Genadendal where more people could be served at one time. Now grant recipients must access their grants via an ATM, Post Office or selected retailer. There are only two ATMs in Genadendal, no Post Office and little to no retailers. This has meant that grant recipients must travel further to neighbouring towns Greyton and Caledon to get access to a Post Office and more ATMs. This has increased the cost for travelling for most participants and since ATMs are now being used this has brought additional costs by way of ATM fees and banking fees.

2. Travel Time

Given the fact that some participants travel out of Genadendal to access their grants this has vastly affected travel time. At least two participants (G01 and G09) travel to Caledon every month to collect their grant. Another 3 (G07, G10 and G12) travel to Greyton to use either the ATMs or the Post Office. Since most participants are elderly walking pace is slow and walking to the ATMs from their homes in Genadendal takes a significant amount of time given their age. Additionally travel to Caledon is required at the very least to get better retail options for groceries and access to recourse for grant issues.

3. Distance

In respect of this variable for 10 of the 15 participants the distance to their pay site did not change. This is because the ATMs are situated across the road from the former pay hall. For five participants the distance to access their grants has greatly increased because they are travelling to either Caledon or Greyton. The average distance travelled now is 11.8km compared to 3.2km previously.

Opportunity cost

The focus on opportunity costs for grant recipients is to assess the loss of income or other activities that the grant recipient may forgo in order to collect his/her grant. Additionally participants were also probed on the availability of cheaper goods on sale and chances for entrepreneurship that were present at the former paysite (prior to decommissioning) and whether these opportunities exist now (post decommissioning).

Participants in Genadendal noted that their retail options are severely limited and the previous pay point was one option which provided to them the opportunity to buy certain goods more cheaply. This saved them money for not having to travel to Caledon. A participant noted that:

" I used to buy socks, underwear and small appliances (radio) there. It was cheap and convenient. There were fish and vegetables. We don’t see them at all anymore. They lost their source of income. I need to travel with a taxi to Caledon now to buy my things. And the things are a bit expensive."

Another participant similarly noted that:

" Ek mis die mense wat hier verkoop het. Hulle het vis, klere, bakke en speelgoed verkoop. Ek het laas bank lappe gekoop vir R150. Dit was nou spotgoedkoop. Hulle het lampe en elektriese goed verkoop. Nee, ons sukkel nou sonder die bargains. Ek het altyd my vriende van daar raakgeloop en dan het ons lekker gesels en verneem hoe dit gaan. Ons moet nou daar goed koop soos ander mense". (I miss the people that used to sell here. They had fish, clothes, bowls and toys. I bought couch covers for R150. That was dirt cheap. They sold lamps and electrical appliances. We no struggle without the bargains. I always used to meet my friends at the pay point and then we would catch up. Now we have to go buy stuff at the shop like other people.)

The loss of a sense of community was also noted among participants who stated that the gathering at the community hall allowed them to catch up with friends and family.

" Hier is nie meer stalitjies nie. Ek moet nou Caledon toe. Daar was wasgoed pennetjies, spices, biscuits, koek. Dit was gemaklik, ek het altyd vir my doughnuts gekoop. Ek het baie vriende daar ontmoet, ons kan nou glad nie meer byeen nie. Ons tye is nie dieselfde nie. Dis eintlik n groot vermisting." (There arnt stalls here anymore. I now have to go to Caledon. There used to be pegs, spices, biscuits and cake. It was comfortable, I always used to buy dougnuts there. I used to meet many friends there, now we cant met up anymore. Our times are not the same anymore. Its actually a big loss.)


In respect of this variable participants were probed for changes surrounding dignified treatment by officials/retail workers, conditions under which they received their grant, access to adequate ablution facilities, safety, access to recourse and general sentiment surrounding the participants feelings of the grant collection process.

Most participants noted that the previous pay point in the Victoria Hall (community hall) felt safer because there were security guards present, chairs, ablution facilities and shelter were also provided. Additionally participants noted that:

" Daar is niks geriewe by die bank nie. Daar is geen mens om te vra hoekom my geld min is nie, so ek los maar." (There are no faciities at the  bank. There is no one to ask why I have money being deducted, so I just don’t ask anyone).

"People stand in rain and sun, there is no shelter, not even a chair. I need to finish going to the toilet at home as there is no facilities. No officials or Police at the ATM. One is at own risk"

"Nou is dit nie meer veilig nie. Daar is nie n afdak nie. Geen respek of orde nie. Daar is glad nie n toilet of water bie soos voorheen nie." (It is no longer safe. There is no shelter or order. There are no toilets or water like there used to be at the previos pay point).

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 cataloguing 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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