'People would die if grants stopped' - KZN family surviving on R850 foster care grant

In this three-part News24 series, we introduce you to three families in three provinces who depend solely on social grants. In this second feature, we highlight the plight of the *Khumalo family, who survive on R850 a month. They live in a house in Durban. *Ma Khumalo is raising two of her late sister's children. The family could fall on hard times if the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) fails to find a new grant distributor by the March 31 deadline the Constitutional Court set in 2014. Amanda Khoza spoke to the family to find out what a delay in the grant would mean for them.

Durban – A bowl of phuthu pap, two litres of Inkomazi maas milk, a few slices of white bread wrapped inside an Albany plastic bag, two eggs, and half a cucumber.

These are some of the last items left in *Ma Khumalo's fridge, and which will keep the family going until March 1, when they receive her nephew's next foster care grant.

"The deep freezer is all ice. There is no meat, it’s too expensive," the 47-year-old street sweeper says.

Khumalo is visibly in a rush. Her black handbag rests on the corner of her brown suede couch, ready for her to snatch it on her way out the door for a follow-up appointment at King Edward VII Hospital in the CBD.

"I fell and broke my leg and now I cannot work, so we depend solely on [my nephew's] foster care grant."

The Khumalo family, along with 45.5% of South African households, are dependent on government social grants, which are available to families with a combined monthly income of R7 000 or less.

According to Statistics SA, R42 of every R100 national government spends on the social welfare system goes to family and child grants.

About 17 million beneficiaries are at risk of not getting paid on April 1, after Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan proposed that banks and the SA Post Office distribute the funds when Cash Paymaster Services’ (CPS) contract with the social development department ends on March 31.

'People would die'

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said failure to pay out on the day would be disastrous. On Wednesday, Dlamini assured Parliament that all Sassa beneficiaries would be paid their grant come April 1.

In 2014, the Constitutional Court declared the contract with CPS invalid, but suspended the invalidity order until March 31 this year to give the department time to find a new service provider.

"If Sassa stopped paying the grants it would be a disaster. People would die. What will [my nephew] do? What about the elderly? They too will die," Khumalo says.

"I was working for a company that got a tender to sweep the streets, so I was working there until I fell and broke my left foot in December. I was earning R4 000 a month, so I have not been paid since, because I have not been at work."

The three months of not earning a salary have made her appreciate the R850 she uses to feed and clothe her nephew, 15, and her niece, 22. She took them in when her sister died in 2003, after a long illness.

Khumalo learnt to care for her loved ones from a young age, so it was only natural that she would take the children in.

In matric, she took up odd jobs so she could earn enough money to look after her unemployed mother and sister. She never had the money to go to university.

"My mother died in March 2003 and my sister followed in July. I lost two family members in one year, it was painful. I used the little money that I earned to bury them."

Two years later, Khumalo lost her partner. The two had a son. He is 21 now and living with his late father's family.

'Don't have a choice'

At the time she was living off selling second-hand clothing. With the two additional mouths to feed, she had to make a plan.

"I applied for the foster care grants for both of them because I was not going to be able to afford to look after them."

The application was successful and, at the time, she received just under R500 for each child. It was enough for them to survive on.

When her niece completed her schooling in 2015, she no longer qualified for a social grant. One child’s foster care grant now had to support all of them.

"We don’t have a choice, but it hurts me. When I worked, I used that R850 strictly on him. He was born with a chronic disease and so he takes medication and he eats special cereal like Future Life and needs Centrum for energy."

Of the R850, R400 is for groceries and about R300 for electricity. She owns the RDP house she stays in, so does not have to pay a bond.

'Better than nothing'

"The money disappears, but it is better than nothing."

She is worried about her foster children's futures.

"[My niece] is unemployed and I am worried about [my nephew]. I think he is a slow learner. It takes him a long time to grasp things. He has repeated almost all the grades in the latter part of his schooling career. That is why he is 15 in Grade 7. He is supposed to be in Grade 9."

She intends asking the family's social worker to assess her nephew so he can be placed in a special needs school.

Khumalo has been monitoring the news, particularly stories about the Sassa court battle.

"I used to ask myself, how do my neighbours survive on their grandmother’s social grant? Now I understand because I am in their shoes."

 - If you would like to help the family, CLICK HERE to do your bit.

*Names have been changed

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