Five tumultuous years in the Sassa saddle

Published Apr 17, 2024


By Major-General (Retired) Ntsiki Memela-Motumi

As we celebrate 30 years of democracy in South Africa, it is important for the women of this beloved country to pause and appreciate the progressive policies adopted by the ANC government that have ensured that we take our rightful spaces in all spheres of influence.

Most importantly, we must also reflect on how we have used our positions to move the needle, and defend our democratic gains. In pursuit thereof, l have thought it best to start at home by examining my twin sister’s performance at the helm of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) as l believe that that women’s representation in decision making structures is not an end in and of itself but a means to the creation of a equal, inclusive and diverse society.

My twin sister Totsie Memela was appointed as the CEO of Sassa at the tail end of the fifth democratic government, during Susan Shabangu’s tenure as the minister of social development.

In fact she reported to work on May 2, 2019. In its own way, this was the highest point of her career and service to the people she loved so deeply that she was prepared to lay down her life for, when she chose to join the military wing of the ANC, uMkhonto we Sizwe, in her youth.

But she did not know that this would be the most difficult years of her life and career. Her intention and desire was to be an example of a focused and committed public servant who wants to see the success of government programmes.

In this pursuit, she has over the past five years channelled her energy and time to rebuilding the capabilities of the agency. This includes staff training and up-skilling.

In fact, the training programmes she has implemented have transformed the attitude of staff who have embraced her intentions to take service delivery to great heights.

This has resulted in a significant increase of grant recipients over the past five years. One of her proud achievements was to embark upon a business processes re-engineering. This will in no doubt ensure that the agency is fit for purpose and not top heavy.

What has kept her awake at night was the inoperability of the social security systems. Thus, the migration from the current legacy systems of manually processing grant applications and record keeping has been on her radar. This includes the assemblage of a competent, agile and digitally savvy fraud team, capable of collaborating closely with other law enforcement agencies in order to nip the evils of fraud and corruption in the bud, and to further prevent it from rearing its ugly head in any way or form, going forward.

In addition, she has also cleared some of the irregular expenditures flagged by the auditor-general before her tenure. What is refreshing is the fact that, she has put plans in place for a fully automated grant applications system, which among other things will entail the use of biometrics.

Another desired end state is to develop an integrated social protection system that is connected and linked to other state entities in order to curb double dipping.

It must also be further stated that my twin sister is passionate about creating grant recipients that have both self respect and dignity. Thus, individuals have been empowered to choose how they wish to receive their social grant including payments directly into their own personal bank account. Of course, we all witnessed and experienced the effectiveness of digitisation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is what also inspired my twin sister to evolve and employ a new system that allowed 10 million people to access their social relief grant system without setting their feet in Sassa offices. Much as there were technical glitches at the beginning, these were ironed out. At present, the right social grant is paid to the right person most of the time. That is a great achievement.

Haters have tried to use the technological glitches to destroy her credibility. But as she is a woman of a steel, this has made her stronger. Few people are aware that my twin sister is a development activist, with great interpersonal skills. Hence it was easy for her to enter into social contracts with key stakeholders such as retailers, banks, traditional leaders and the people.

Significantly, she has also commissioned action research and benchmarking with other countries. This has seen her initiate programmes to empower recipients in order to transform their lives through self sufficiency projects to augment their meagre social grants. She is indeed an advocate of the spirit of vuk'uzenzele where people learn to do things for themselves. After all, it is an open secret that the government’s grants cannot continue indefinitely in the current economic climate.

Above all, my twin sister has pursued sound administration and good governance. In this regard, she has established internal regulatory frameworks that must be adhered to, by all and sundry. Tied to this, is the enhancement of financial delegations to the regional executive members. The rationale being that, this will not only promote accountability but also help to speed up the delivery of services. As a result, no senior manager who wants to do the right thing must wait for the CEO’s approval. And to avoid backfiring, she has strengthened internal controls that are safeguarded by the appointment of competent internal and external audit committees members.

Middle managers have also been exposed to leadership development programmes in order to inculcate confidence, ethical conduct and attitudes of servitude. This will inevitably inspire and elevate their innovation skills for efficiency and effectiveness.

In another a significant development, my twin sister has also had an opportunity to engage with Sassa employees living with disabilities in pursuit of inclusion, equality and diversity. The outcome of this engagement was the appreciation and acknowledgement of their recently acquired skills sets. Thus, her strategic intent is to ensure that their capabilities are aligned with the agency’s future organogram and objectives. I’m grateful that my twin sister is made of sterner stuff, as this is the main reason why she is still standing.

Ntsiki Memela-Motumi is a social worker, gender activist, and former chief of defence transformation and deputy chief of human resources at the Department of Defence.

Pretoria News

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