Decommissioning South African Social Services: Participatory Field Research in Khayelitsha

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General Issues
Human Rights & Civil Rights
Social Welfare
Specific Topics
Pensions & Retirement
Low-income Assistance
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
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 Khayelithsa urban township 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 It has now been replaced by a payment infrastructure provided for by the South African Post Office (SAPO).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

Khayelitsha is a black African township situated roughly 31km outside Cape Town. It is one of the largest townships in Cape Town with a population of almost 400 000. It was created in 1989 as a space for black African people as part of the ongoing process of spatial planning and racial separation in South Africa during its Apartheid era. Khayelitsha is a generally poor, low to middle income area with a high rate of crime particularly gang related. The housing in Khayelithsa ranges from government issue homes to shack dwellings. While Khayelithsa is a mostly black African (South African) area it is also home to a small but significant group of foreign nationals. Khayelitsha as the second urban case site for this research is the opposite the other urban case site, Delft, in racial composition however similar issues of crime along with inadequate and insufficient housing remain the same.

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 Khayelithsa 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 Khayelitsha the CBO is the SACLA Health project, a youth clinic for the community of Khayelitsha. SACLA provides quality and affordable health care for Khayelithsa and surrounding rural areas.

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

Participant Recruitment and Selection

For the overall research project the four component cases were selected to reflect both urban and rural settings. The Khayelitsha component case is an example of an urban 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.

Khayelitsha was selected as it is a mostly black African and poor settlement unlike the other urban case study Delft, which is a predominantly coloured area. 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 Khayelitsha, and are well known to the NGO workers there. Through the assistance of SACLA Health Project, fifteen 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 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: Tuesday 2 April, involved the researchers meeting with the grant recipients, as organised by the partner organisation of Black Sash, SACLA Health Project. 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 1 April, involved researchers travelling with selected participants to collect their money, and interviewing, observing and photographing the process of the day.
  • Day 3-workshop: Friday 12 April, was a debrief for the Khayelitsha 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 Monday 1 April, 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 Khayelitsha, Western Cape. The focus of the workshop on 2 April was on recipients experience of the change in the allocation of social grants from the SASSA pay point system to the new system.

These recipients were all residents of Khayelitsha, and their presence at the workshop was facilitated by the Black Sash through its partnership with SACLA Health Project. Before the workshop researchers conducted a follow along with participants as they went about collecting their grants. This took place on Monday 1 April. This process involved participant interviews and observation.

The day 1 workshop was comprised of 13 participants of whom all were black African. Most of the participants were female, with only 1 male. The average age of the group was 74.

Results per variable:

  1. Distance

In respect of the impact of decommissioning on the distance travelled to access these grants, the research revealed that roughly half (7) recipients have reported an increase in distance travelled. The remaining participants reported either no change in distance travelled or were now travelling a shorter distance. An average increase of 0.1km was reported. Most participants noted that they now access their grant at the mall that is a short distance from the former paypoint hence the minimal change to distance. Participants who reported large differences in distance such as K01 and K03 travel outside Khayelithsa to another township area, Mithcell’s Plain to get their grant.

2. Finances

While changes in distance has been minimal for participants in Khayelithsa the cost of travel to access points for grants now has increased on average by R23.69. The former paypoint in Khayelitsha, a community hall, was situated close to participants and within the community itself meaning that participants only had to walk. All participants reported that they walked to the former paypoint and paid no money in travel costs. However the retail stores and ATMs where participants must now collect their money is situated at a nearby mall a similar distance away as the community hall. However this mall is located across a busy intersection over a highway and participants cannot safely cross it. Participants now have to take a taxi to get to the other side of the highway where the mall is located. This has resulted in a phenomenal increase in cost from R0 to roughly R23 a return trip.

3. Travel time

Although the change in distance from the former payoint to the current one is minimal the method of transport has changed from walking to taking a taxi. This has meant that in most cases for the participants they have reported little increase in time takes or less time taken to get to their pay site. A drop in travel time was reported for participants such as K012 who no longer collect their grant themselves but have someone else collect it for them and bring it their home.

4. Dignity

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.

The participants noted that they felt very uneasy and unsafe having to walk and take a taxi in Khayelithsa. This is due to the high crime in the area. Two participants noted that they collect their grant outside of Khayelithsa in a different area because they felt safer to do so. Most participants noted with concern the rise in crime in the area with one participants stating that:

“ At the Promenade they help us there you will security”

In addition to the threat of crime participants noted that there were little to no facilities for elderly, disbaled or sick persons who queue now unlike before when these people would have been given preference at the former paypoint. Toilet facilities were noted as being especially dreadful with hardly any toilet paper and generally unsanitary conditions. No chairs, shelter or food are available for grant recipients or Participants stated that:

“The paypoint had chairs available, staff were friendly and helpful, there were many people on duty to help. "They also try very hard to try to make sure we understand and explain and so on". Disabled people went to the front of the line. There were lots of security "They stood there with AK47's". 

"They treated us very well before we had water, shelter and we had access to the public toilets as well. We got our grant in full with no deductions."

"We were put inside the community hall so it was safe. The queues, although they were long, but you could leave and buy something to eat and come back to your position. There were no delays."

"Now we are not fairly treated, because we just stand in lines with no one guiding us. We don't get chairs, we have no access to water and you need to pay R1 for the toilet/bathroom so if you don't have R1 you can't access the toilets. The securities of the shop, they give us the numbers to go outside shoprite."

The new system was especially difficult for disbaled and chronic illness sufferers who had no access to medical care or special treatment when collecting their grants. One participant who was blind stated that her aid was not permitted to stand next to her in the line at Shoprite and she struggled to get management at the store to allow her aid to punch in her pin at the till and withdraw her money:

“I must stand in line alone because my friend isn't allowed to help meShe doesn’t know her pin. Shoprite doesn’t always believe that she i’m blind and so my friend can’t help me. The staff are rude and aren't helpful”.

Another participant who is a diabetes sufferer noted that because she waits for hours in line she becomes faint from not having eaten. She has stated that if she leaves the queue to eat or go to the toilet she will not be allowed back in and will have to join the queue at the back. No medical staff are on duty to assist her or others if they should have a medical emergency.

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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