Loan shark practice hits hungry elderly

Andrew Mekgweng and his wife Rebecca, who are on medication for their chronic illnesses, cannot apply for state's food hampers as their IDs and Sassa cards are with a loan shark./Dimakatso Modipa
Andrew Mekgweng and his wife Rebecca, who are on medication for their chronic illnesses, cannot apply for state's food hampers as their IDs and Sassa cards are with a loan shark./Dimakatso Modipa

Many poor, elderly people are not able to register for free government food parcels as their identity and social grant cards are held by loan sharks.

Sowetan spoke to three pensioners from Mamelodi, east of Pretoria, who missed out on food parcels which were part of government's relief efforts during the lockdown.

Township loan sharks, commonly known as mashonisa, keep pensioners' grant cards and their ID cards as a "guarantee" until the 30-day loan has been repaid, mostly at grossly illegal interest, which can be 100% in other cases.

The three pensioners said they were forced to borrow again from the mashonisa to be able to buy groceries.

Daniel Maluleka, 64, said he was desperate to get the free food parcels which were being distributed in the township since the lockdown started.

"It's now difficult for me to register for these food parcels because I don't have my ID with me because... I was desperate to put food on the table [and went to a mashonisa]."

Maluleka said his monthly pension grant was unable to last him a week as he was taking care of two of his unemployed adult children and their two children.

"My Sassa card and ID are currently in the hands of a loan shark and I'm afraid when I get paid my grant next month the loan shark will take all my money and I have to go back and borrow from him again," he said.

Andrew Mekgweng, 76, and his wife Rebecca, 74, owed a loan shark a combined R1,600 and also owed a spaza shop for groceries they took on credit.

"Me and my wife have chronic illnesses and we live mainly on porridge... we eat porridge for breakfast, lunch and supper because food runs out and I don't know who to turn to," Mekgweng said.

He said the food parcels from the government would rescue them at least until the end of the month.

Zakaria Motaung, 66, said he lived with his sister-in-law and nine grandchildren.

"I honestly have no other choice but to get a loan to survive these hard times... my family is still going hungry hence we do need the food parcels."

Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi said: "Sassa urges all social grant beneficiaries not to use their social grants and payment cards to obtain loans, and cede their cards as guarantees for repayment."

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