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Swazi citizens crossing border to collect South African social grants? No evidence of widespread grant fraud by foreign nationals

“Swati Citizen receives the SASSA grant in South Africa illegally,” claims a Facebook post from 1 April 2020. 

It says the SABC, South Africa’s public broadcaster, has reported that “two Swati nationals were arrested after they jumped the border fence to South Africa. They were coming to collect the SASSA grants.” The country of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) borders South Africa to the east.

The South African Social Services Agency, or Sassa, administers and delivers social relief such as pensions and child support grants to citizens. Payments continue despite the country’s current lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The post adds: “We are losing millions of rands to the foreigners, and our government is doing nothing.”

It shows a photo of a woman crawling under a barbed wire fence.

The post has been shared more than 1,000 times. Is its claim true?

Photo 13 years old, no SABC report

The photo isn’t of a woman crossing the eSwatini border, and is more than a decade old. A reverse image search reveals that it was taken by photographer James Oatway in March 2007

Oatway told Africa Check in an email that the photo shows a Zimbabwean migrant crossing the northern border into South Africa in 2007.

And we could find no SABC report that two Swazi national were arrested for jumping the border on their way to “collect Sassa grants”.

The SABC has reported that grant recipients and social development minister Lindiwe Zulu were pleased with the grant collection process. But no report mentioned the arrest of Swazi nationals.

Grant fraud mainly by South Africans

Grant recipients must be citizens or permanent residents. Some refugees also qualify. To minimise fraud, Sassa introduced “biometric payment cards” in 2014. Recipients have to show these cards, along with valid South African identity documents, to collect grants.

The Facebook post also claims that “all of SADC comes through for grant money then go back to their country”. This is unlikely. SADC, or the Southern African Development Community, is made up of 16 African countries reaching as far north as DR Congo and Tanzania. Only six of the countries border South Africa.

Sassa’s 2018/19 annual report breaks down 627 cases of reported fraud, theft and corruption in that financial year. Some of the cases implicated foreign nationals, but they were the minority.

Out of the 627 cases investigated, only 71 were referred to the police. The 71 cases involved 73 grant recipients as well as several officials, including 52 Sassa officials. 

A total of 17,811,745 grants were delivered in 2018/19. So the 71 cases make up slightly less than 0.0004% of all Sassa grants.

Even if many fraudulent grant collections are not reported, there is no evidence that they are collected by people who do not have citizenship, permanent residency or refugee rights. And reported fraud rates are so low that there is no basis for the claim that South Africa is “losing millions of rands to the foreigners”. – Keegan Leech


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