The Social Security Agency (SASSA)

There are, apparently, records from over two hundred years B.C., in the Chinese Qin dynasty, indicating that handprints were used as evidence during burglary investigations and that in ancient Babylon, fingerprints were used on clay tablets for business transactions.1

Fingerprints are a ‘biometric’ identifier – the distinctive characteristics unique to each individual. Because they can be measured, they are used to identify people. Nowadays, technology has advanced so much that iris recognition, face recognition, voice recognition, odour and even brain and heart signals are used.2 DNA, of course, is the ultimate biometric identifier.

Biometric data is used in a wide variety of roles: passport and border control, building access, security, banking and also the dispensation of social welfare grants. In part, this is what the eponymous South African Social Security Agency Act 2004 concerns, for it established the Agency, to administer the payment of social assistance to millions throughout the Republic. The system necessitates the enrolment and use of biometric data of claimants and their dependants, a massive task as can be expected.

In any event, it works – well, there have been widely publicised problems of late, indeed, but in the normal course the savings to the fiscus have been substantial. There were, previously, a significant number of grants claimed (and paid) for people who were either deceased, or just did not exist, or which were – particularly in the case of children – duplicated.

The Act falls under the authority of the Minister of Social Development.

A. Information

  1. It is an offence to disclose any information that has been submitted in connection with an application, or an instruction, for or in respect of a grant, payment, benefit or assistance under the Act.3

  2. Members of staff of the Agency have to disclose any direct or indirect interest (financial or otherwise) which could cause a conflict with his functions, or could compromise the Agency in its functions. These interests are recorded in a register. It is a crime to disclose any of that information (unless lawfully obligated to do so).4

B. Corruption and misrepresentation

  1. If any member of staff, or anyone acting on behalf of the Agency, directly or indirectly accepts any fee or reward in connection with anything to do with the Agency, he commits a crime.5

  2. Any person who bribes or corruptly influences (or attempts to do so) any member of staff or person acting on behalf of the Agency, in connection with anything to do with the Agency, commits a criminal offence.6

  3. It is an offence to make use of logos, designs or advertising material used or owned by the Agency without its written authorisation.7

  4. It is a crime falsely to claim to be acting on behalf of the Agency.8

  1. – ‘The History of Fingerprints.’ 

  2. Wikipedia – ‘Biometrics’

  3. Section 16(1) read with section 16(3). 

  4. Section 16(2) read with section 16(3). 

  5. Section 19(1). 

  6. Section 19(2). 

  7. Section 18(1) read with section 18(3). 

  8. Section 18(2) read with 18(3).