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Social grant payment ‘glitch’ sees desperate elderly recipients forced to take loans to survive

Social grant payment ‘glitch’ sees desperate elderly recipients forced to take loans to survive
Social grant beneficiaries stand in a snaking line outside the post office in Gatesville, Cape Town on Friday morning. Many people were waiting to get their grants after a system glitch at Postbank earlier this week delayed payments. (Photo: Ella Morrison)

Despite Postbank's promise that social grant payments would be accessible on Friday, thousands of pensioners were still unable to access their money.

Social grant beneficiaries are still struggling to access their money following this week’s “system glitch”. Most of the people we interviewed on Friday, who solely rely on the grant, said they have been forced to take private loans to put food on their tables.

On Monday a technical error at Postbank meant thousands of pensioners who use a Sassa/Postbank card were unable to access their grants from ATMs and retailer stores. This was the third payment problem that we are aware of that has disrupted social grant payments since November.

Postbank administers payments on behalf of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa). In a statement on Wednesday, the bank announced that the “technical challenge” had been resolved. In a subsequent statement on Thursday, Postbank said that the issue had been caused by “a backlog of fund credits”, meaning that recipients of the Old Age and Disability grants could not be withdrawn from retailers and ATMs. Postbank promised that the grants would be accessible on Friday.

Still no grants

But on Friday morning GroundUp visited payment points in Kariega and Makhanda in the Eastern Cape, Durban and Cape Town to check if beneficiaries are still experiencing issues.

Most of the social grant beneficiaries we spoke to in Gatesville, Cape Town and Makhanda, Eastern Cape said they were forced to take out loans because they have not been able to access their grant money. These loans will cause further financial burdens on people desperately in need of money to feed themselves and their families.

Elderly people wait for social grant payments

Some elderly people, who had been in line outside this post office for hours, waited in line while others took a rest on the pavement. (Photo: Ella Morrison)

In Gatesville, there was a snaking queue around the parking area outside the post office which appeared to not be moving. Most pensioners knew each other from the many return trips they made here this week.

Sharon Cerers, 67, from Heideveld told GroundUp she borrowed money from her neighbours to travel to Gatesvile and buy food. “My pension must go to other people now because I don’t have enough money. It’s my only source of income.” She had been waiting in line for about an hour when we arrived at 11am.

“It’s affecting me very much. We don’t have food money, or anything.” Cerers supports three other people with her R2,080 pension.

Read more: Time to bust the ghosts in the Social Relief of Distress grant machine

Fatima Odendaal, 65, from Manenberg, said she had been waiting since 5am and was still not helped by 11am. “Where must I get my money? People don’t have money to lend me. This is my only source of income.”

Kamielah Richards from Bonteheuwel was in line for a neighbour whom she said spent last night crying because she was hungry. “How must the people eat? It’s not fair. She supports four grandchildren after their father died.”

People stand in line outside a loan company’s office

People stand in line outside a loan company’s office which is situated near the post office in Makhanda. Most of them said they had to go to the lenders because they could not access their grants. (Photo: Loyiso Dyongman)

In Makhanda we found scores of people queuing at ATMs and retailers across the town centre trying to withdraw their money.

Eric Mazwi Sakhe said that he has still not received his grant and has nothing at home. “I’m going home now. I have been trying all week. I don’t know where to go from here … I stay with my wife. She got her grant,” said Sakhe.

At the only post office in Hill Street we found that only one staffer was attending to clients. He said that they expect “things will return to normal” once issues at their post office have been restored. “We have been told that Sapo [South African Post Office] has financial problems and we have been advised that we are going to be retrenched,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Social grant payments by Postbank and the SA Post Office – where is the oversight?

In Kariega, pensioner Cynthia Neti, 66, said she returned to Sassa’s offices in the city centre on Friday morning. When she went to ask about her grant money on Wednesday, they told her to wait 48 hours.

“However, it’s Friday and I am still going up and down, using R30 per trip to the ATMs. I am now broke. There is still no money at the bank and I even asked my neighbours to lend me money. I don’t know what I will eat,” she said.

KwaMashu’s L section community hall

Banks came out to KwaMashu’s L section community hall in Durban to help beneficiaries who had issues with their payments. (Photo: Tsoanelo Sefoloko)

In Durban, KwaMashu’s L section community hall was filled with more than 500 beneficiaries who had been struggling to get their grant money.

Ntombikhona Zungu said she has been without money because of the payment problem. “I am old so it is not easy for me to hear when they made announcements on the street or on the radio,” said Zungu.

Community leader Sipho Mthalane said they asked Sassa and some of the banks to come to the area to make things easier for frustrated beneficiaries.

“Every bank agreed to bring representatives here so that it will be easy for recipients to get a bank card. After they complete everything with Sassa, they are given an option to choose to get their grant paid into their bank,” said Mthalane.

Riddled with problems

There have been at least three nationwide technical issues with the payment of social grants since Postbank took over the administration of grants from SAPO in October 2022.

In November 2022, there was a technical glitch. In December, a cyber attack disrupted grant payments. In January 2023, there was yet another glitch. During a parliamentary briefing in May, Sassa said that the technical issues had been resolved.

Black Sash director Rachel Bukasa said in a press statement that “beneficiaries are frustrated and desperate as they cannot purchase necessities such as food or electricity … this is a grave injustice and a breach of the Constitutional obligation to deliver grants”.

“From the start, Postbank’s system has not been designed to adequately administer the payment of social grants.”

Busaka said, “We worry that there was a failure by the Department of Social Development and Sassa, prior to partnering with Postbank, to do proper due diligence to determine whether Postbank had the capacity, expertise and infrastructure to administer the payment of social grants.”

About 46% of grant beneficiaries receive their grants through the Sassa/Postbank gold cards, while more than half of recipients receive their grants in their private bank accounts. A small number of beneficiaries go to a post office or cash pay points to get their grants.

Postbank and Sassa did not respond to questions sent by GroundUp on Friday morning by the time of publication. DM

Post Office in Paarl, social grant payments

There were also long lines outside the Post Office in Paarl, Western Cape on Friday. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

First published by GroundUp.

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