South Africa: Congestion At Grant Pay Points Improving, Says Minister

The South African Social Services Agency (SASSA) has managed to overcome the teething problems experienced on the first day of grant payments, says Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.

The payments on Monday, during the 21-day lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, saw snaking queues and social-distancing not being observed at pay points as millions collected their monthly grants.

Addressing reporters at a social cluster ministerial briefing on Tuesday, Social Development Minister Linidwe Zulu said: "Yesterday we started quite well from a point of view of ensuring that the SASSA grants are paid through the South African Post Office (Sapo), through the banks, through every retailer where they could either access their money or buy their groceries."

Payments on Monday started smoothly, she said, adding that money was being disbursed timeously by banks and retailers. However, she conceded that queues were too long in the areas outside pay points and social distancing was also not observed.

"Today, when we went out, we found a very different situation. I think from yesterday's experience, the support we need to get in terms of the retail sector assisting us in having more of our own assisting in queues, things were looking better."

The Minister thanked the retailers, SASSA and SAPO for accommodating recipients by setting out chairs and observing social distancing.

Most of the payments which were supposed to be made at access channels were largely a success despite the challenges.

By 5pm on Monday, SASSA had paid out R3.8 billion in grants to four million recipients.

About 3.3 million recipients received their grants at ATM points.

Zulu said the department and stakeholders needed to ensure the dignity of beneficiaries during the process of paying out grants beyond the COVID-19 outbreak.

"At the moment it's still a stress and strain on our people. We are already speaking to SASSA and SAPO to say: can we look for different ways of doing it because today it is the Coronavirus and tomorrow it might be something else and it will find us not with good systems that are easily accessible," she said.

Another issue was that all recipients collecting grants pitched up, despite communication that only the elderly and those with disabilities do so on the first two days.

In some rural areas grant cash arrived late and money ran out at some pay points.

"Monies ran out and therefore we needed to have a quick plan to ensure that today most of the monies arrived [on time]," she said.

Regarding interventions, the Minister said the cash management industry had confirmed, through the Reserve Bank, that there will be enough cash to replenish ATMs.

Some Metros in Gauteng have offered volunteers for support services. Additional security services will be availed for additional support for crowd management.

Expressing government's condolences

The Minister expressed condolences to the families of three recipients who died on the first day of grant collection.

In the Western Cape, a recipient collapsed on her way home and in KwaZulu-Natal a person collapsed and died at a Post Office pay point. In Soweto, a pensioner passed on en route to receiving her grant.

"It says our people are going out to get [their] monies even if they are not well because they don't have other means.

"These are people who depend entirely on SASSA grants. At times they won't even say as they leave home that they are not well. Getting money is about getting money to put bread on the table for the children they live with," she said.

SASSA, the national and provincial Social Development Department are already in contact with the affected families to provide financial relief.

Insurance company, Assupol, has also offered R50 000 to each family for funeral costs.

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