Beneficiaries want to be heard over Sassa-woes

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) last week expressed confidence that the Post Office’s (Sapo) next pay-out of social grants at end of September will be “much smoother”. Many beneficiaries however, are still confused over the transition process and some called on MPs to hold public hearings where they can express how the transition impacts on their lives. From October Sapo will take over grant pay-outs from the former service provider Cash Paymaster Services (CPS). Sassa said in the statement that Sapo already paid beneficiaries R4,4 billion through 7,4 million transactions by 3 September. Sassa CEO Abraham Mahlangu described Sapo’s progress as “impressive” given the volume of September’s pay-outs and the number of beneficiaries it managed to migrate to the new gold Sassa card.

Sassa must complete all card swops by end of this month yet in more rural communities and with less than a month to the deadline, getting beneficiaries to swop their old green cards for the new one, remains slow. Grant beneficiaries also still have the option to receive grants in their personal bank accounts but will be subject to commercial bank fees. ParlyBeat attended a meeting between Sassa and community representatives of the organisation Women on Farms Project in Stellenbosch recently. During this meeting Sassa representative from Paarl June Davids, told community workers that there are 23 447 grant beneficiaries registered in the greater Stellenbosch area. The area includes communities like Idasvalley, Cloetesville, Franchoek, Klapmuts, Simondeum and Kylemore. Of the almost 24 000 registered beneficiaries, only 6 418 completed their card swop. “So, we still have about 17 000 beneficiaries who must transition from the old to the new system. Many of these beneficiaries may choose the commercial bank option and will then not need the new Sassa card,” she explained. Davids said there are 44 786 registered beneficiaries in the greater Paarl area which include places like Wellington, Gouda and Saron. “We have managed to swop cards for 15 846 of these beneficiaries so the uptake is very slow, despite Sassa offices remaining open over weekends.”

Some community activists blamed this and other challenges with the transition process on a lack of communication from government. “There is a lot of misinformation doing the rounds,” said WFP-convener Rebecca Mort. “They (Sassa) tell the Portfolio Committee (on Social Development) their plans, but the information does not get anywhere where concrete decisions lead to concrete changes.” Mort said it is clear MPs are not aware of what is happening on the ground.

When ParlyBeat visited the communities of Klapmuts and Simondeum recently, some beneficiaries expressed frustration and general confusion over the process. Simondeum resident and pensioner Joan Herman (76) said she “hopes all will be well with her money”. “I hear all kinds of stories. People complain about not getting their grant money and there are never people around who can explain the right thing. I cannot afford to lose my money. How am I going to live?” Herman received her new Sapo card. In Klapmuts however, pensioner Elsie Markus (66) said last month she had to struggle two weeks to get her money. Markus said there was a problem with her pin and she had to travel by minibus taxi to the Sassa branch in Paarl to rectify the situation. There is no Post Office in Klapmuts and taking a taxi trip to Paarl can cost up to R30. Said Markus: “They don’t give the right information and when they try to explain, they do so in English. Many of us old people here can’t speak English, so it is even more confusing. They should start putting more people there who speak Afrikaans.”

Klapmuts resident Jenny Nkala who attended many of the Sassa-briefings in Parliament, said officials often paints a rosy picture telling MPs everything is okay. “MPs do not know what happens here. Officials are not explaining properly how this new card will work or that they will have to pay bank fees if they chose to get paid through banks. So, people must pay taxi fare to get to a bank and then also pay bank fees of about R10. That’s almost the price of a bread.” Nkala said she feels the process was not properly thought through by government. “Look at the Post Office. They can’t even deliver our post but is now in charge of our bread and butter. When government make decisions about people’s livelihoods, its only right to consult and ask the people what they want. Now we are all just at the mercy of a new system nobody is sure will work properly.” Nkala called on the Portfolio Committee on Social Development to hold public hearings so beneficiaries can tell their side of the story and how the process impacts them.

Sapo CEO Mark Barnes, in a statement acknowledged there are still problems with long queues and delays. He said Sapo undertook to deal with higher volumes at peak times in the payment cycle by increasing staff and deploying more portable computers and increasing security. He said Sapo branches will also stay open after normal office hours. Social Development minister Susan Shabangu in answer to a parliamentary question last week said steps are underway to handle the situation. “I have decided to embark on a consultative process with a number of stakeholders such as traditional leaders, faith-based organisations and other like-minded stakeholders to brief them on the payment migration process from CPS to Sapo, the challenges beneficiaries are likely to experience during this process and measures to address it.” Shabangu said there is “a bigger and comprehensive plan to deal with these issues, but she is not at liberty to divulge details now”.

By Alicestine October

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