Singing pensioner speaks

2013-04-13 00:00

“I’M shaky, but I’m not confused. It happened. I would swear on the Bible that it did. It’s the gospel truth.”

So said Ria van Straaten (84) this week after the incident during which she was forced to sing a song before she could get her old-age pension.

Her son, Braam van Straaten (63), was phoned on Thursday by an employee at the office of the South African Agency for Social Security (Sassa) in Newcastle who accused him and his mother of “lying” about the incident.

According to the Van Straatens, the officer said Ria is confused and had to speak over the PA system for Sassa’s new voice recognition database. According to Sassa, the voice recognition database will be added to the existing biometric system later this year for verifying the identity of people who receive their social grants at chain stores or banks.

“That is nonsense. The woman expressly told me to sing a song over the microphone. One of those that singers sing with. Now I have to speak for myself, because now I’m in this thing.”

She maintained that the official said nothing about voice recognition and wanted to humiliate her as an elderly person. Van Straaten said there was an eyewitness (whose identity she did not want to reveal) who saw everything and assisted her after the incident.

David Barritt, spokesperson for Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), the company that pays out monthly social grants countrywide on behalf of Sassa, said they believe an officer had acted wrongfully by asking Van Straaten to sing and not speak.

He said CPS has found a suspect. “We are investigating the matter in real seriousness. We strongly disapprove of such conduct.”

Braam van Straaten said he was impressed at how CPS had dealt with the incident. “It essentially puts the matter to rest. I feel vindicated and so does my mother.”

In another incident involving the biometric system in Pretoria, a deaf and dumb pensioner tried 17 times before her soft, unused voice registered on CPS’s biometric recording device. Marie Pieters (73), said she told officials her mother Marié Spang (83), could not speak, but the officials were adamant, they needed a recording, even if Spang only said “eee”. Using finger language, Pieters asked her mother to say hello, but Spang’s voice was too soft for the system.

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