Cape Town – System glitches at SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) pay points hit thousands of the elderly and disabled across the country as they stood for hours in long queues to collect their grants on Monday.
In the Western Cape, 435 004 beneficiaries received duplicate payments because of a technical error, while in Durban hundreds of pensioners returned home empty-handed following a “shortage of funds and payment glitches” at several pay points.
Sassa has introduced staggered social grant payments during lockdown, which has effectively changed the payment of social grants from the first day of every month to the 4th for the elderly and disabled. All other beneficiaries may collect their grant from the 6th.
Last month, three elderly social grant recipients died in the vicinity of three different payment centres in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Sassa Western Cape spokesperson Shivani Wahab said on Monday that they would try to recover funds from clients where payment reversals were not possible, and beneficiaries who have withdrawn the extra payment would not be paid next month.
“The SA Reserve Bank has been contacted to alert all banks of these duplicate payments. Sassa will recover funds from those clients where payment reversals are not possible.
“We would like to advise clients to leave the additional amount in their account. Those clients who have not yet been paid will receive their money by Tuesday afternoon. We are appealing to clients to allow us time to rectify the situation,” said Wahab.
Scenes of overcrowding and not physical distancing in queues were witnessed in Bellville and Khayelitsha.
Police spokesperson Noloyiso Rwexana said police officers had to assist beneficiaries in a long queue outside the Department of Labour in Bellville to maintain safe distancing.
Khayelitsha Development Forum chairperson Ndithini Tyhido said residents were using supermarkets to withdraw their money, as service points that were promised to be opened by January were still closed.
“We might have a problem of having even fewer stores, because a big supermarket might close tomorrow because of a Covid-19 case.
“Sassa doesn’t have an office, they are squatting in the social department office. So them using the same space means the offices are small, they need to urgently resolve that,” said Tyhido.
In Durban, hundreds of pensioners who stood for hours in long queues returned home empty-handed following a “shortage of fund and payment glitches” at several pay points.
When the Cape Times’s sister paper The Mercury visited several Sassa pay stations at the post office and Spar in Pinetown and the Workshop in the Durban CBD, hundreds of frustrated and hungry pensioners said it seemed like they were being “punished” by the government.
Sassa spokesperson Sandy Godlwana confirmed the system payment glitches and said that the problem was in the transferring of funds to the payment points.
She said that pensioners who had used retailers, banks and the post office as their payment points had been most affected.
“In some of the areas, there was also a shortage of funds, mainly because those people who could not access funds at retailers and banks went to queue at the post offices,” said Godlwana.
She added that funds were released to beneficiaries’ accounts after 3pm and could be accessed from today. Hundreds of elderly beneficiaries waited in queues from as early as 5.30am at the Ga-Rankuwa City shopping centre in Pretoria.
Many of the elderly said that even though they were grateful their money was being paid out first, they were still struggling to get things done.
Elizabeth Medupe, who accompanied her grandmother, said that they had found it difficult to keep up with physical distancing and overcrowding.
“I’m glad they’re getting their money, but I wish the government had kept everyone else at home. Right now there’s just too much activity going on,” she said.
Hundreds of beneficiaries were seen forming a long queue outside the paypoint at Jabulani Mall, Soweto, with little adherence to social distancing. No officials were there to assist the elderly and the physically challenged.
The majority of them were happier with the new system, saying that having only the elderly and the physically challenged made the process a lot quicker.
Rose Mavuso, 82, who was accompanied by her grandson, said they arrived at about 10am and were fortunate that the line at the post office was moving quickly. “We even managed to do grocery shopping. The only disappointment was that we could not buy takeaway food,” Mavuso said, adding that she would be home in time to drink her afternoon medication.
Meanwhile, the DA has issued an ultimatum to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu to open Sassa offices or face legal action. DA spokesperson on social development Bridget Masango said there was a need to open Sassa offices countrywide to deal with the flood of applications for social grants and welfare relief during the Covid-19 lockdown period. Zulu had not responded for a comment by 5pm on Monday.
Cape Times, The Star, The Mercury and Pretoria News
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By Okuhle Hlati, Sakhiseni Nxumalo and Goitsemang Tlhabye