Beneficiaries of social grants are facing exposure to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) which could result in furthering the spread of the virus to vulnerable communities, human rights organisation Black Sash said on Tuesday.
In a statement, Black Sash said it was "gravely concerned" as the elderly and disabled joined "unprecedented long queues" since Monday to receive grants from the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa).
South Africa effected a nationwide lockdown on Friday in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.
At about 16:00 on Monday, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said around R3.7 billion had been processed through Sassa and Post Office cards, News24 reported.
"In addition, 3.1 million beneficiaries were paid through various commercial banks. The large transactions took place despite minor glitches reported in some areas.
"These include long queues, overcrowding and failure to comply with social distancing and hygiene guidelines at some pay outlets. There were also reported cases of depletion of cash at some Post Office outlets due to a higher than normal number of people," Zulu said.
Black Sash said it appreciated that some retailers and commercial banks had made great efforts to enforce the necessary protective measures, such as physical distancing and hygiene protocols.
"However, the majority of grant beneficiaries were left without the benefit of any protective measures while waiting for hours in very long and congested queues. News reports show that there was little to no government support at many retail outlets to assist with [physical] distancing. Almost no provision was made for sanitising, hygiene and toilet facilities."
Black Sash urged Sassa, the Post Office, retailers and the banks to further refine their implementation plans to ensure that the Covid-19 safety protocols were strictly enforced for the remainder of this payment run.
"The context requires that social grants beneficiaries are served in a secure environment, with dignity, and that their most vital asset - their health - remains protected."
The organisation said it had also received reports that ATMs and many retailers had run out of cash on Monday.
"Beneficiaries were informed to return the following day to collect their grants. Limited cash at some grant payment channels is a systemic issue which has been worsened since the Covid-19 lockdown. This is an expensive and stressful exercise for many beneficiaries who cannot afford high transport costs for multiple trips to collect their grants."
The organisation said the amounts allocated for the different types of social grants were meagre, but were often the only source of income for many poor households.
"The grocery bill, without the contributions of the school feeding schemes for a 21-day nationwide lockdown, has considerably increased for many poor households. The lockdown and restrictions on public transport following this week's grant payments mean that many beneficiaries have no choice but to stock up how, when or if they can."
Black Sash said it believed that grant recipients wanted to comply with the lockdown, but that the current socio-economic conditions made this extremely challenging.
"We urge the Department of Social Development to expand its current food feeding scheme plans and to urgently release funds from the R96-million Disaster Relief Fund to affected communities," it added.
Two pensioners died on the first day of social grant payments on Monday, under the 21-day lockdown - in Pimville, Soweto, and Hammersdale in KwaZulu-Natal.
Zulu said she was saddened to learn about the deaths.
"I express my deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the departed. Both of them were confirmed to be social grant beneficiaries at the time of their passing and I have instructed Sassa to process their payments without any delays."