BALDWIN NDABA and MANYANE MANYANE
Johannesburg - A civil society organisation has called on the Department of Social Development to ensure that the new arrangements for the payment of the R350 Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant do not come at a cost to the recipients directly or indirectly.
Black Sash said it wanted answers as to how the move from the South African Post Office (Sapo) to private retail companies affected the South African Social Security Agency’s (Sassa) Memorandum of Agreement and Service Level Agreements with the government-owned postal service entity.
Black Sash national advocacy manager Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker was reacting to the announcement this week that the cash pay points and Sapo outlets from which millions of Sassa beneficiaries usually accessed their grants would no longer be available from May 11, 2022.
Abrahams-Fayker said they also wanted transparency on what services Sapo had rendered to Sassa and how much it had been paid to date to avoid a repeat of the multi-billion rand Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract debacle that plunged Sassa into a crisis a decade ago.
At the time, Black Sash was forced to approach the Constitutional Court after a legal dispute between Sassa and CPS almost led to the former failing to pay grant recipients.
“Sassa is taking two steps back by not putting contingency measures in place where beneficiaries do not bear the brunt of the administrative challenges. It is imperative that DSD and Sassa consider alternative measures for beneficiaries to access their grants at no cost. While using retailers is at no cost to the beneficiary, there must be caution about the fact that private businesses are performing a government service to ensure that there will not be a repeat of the Cash Paymaster Services debacle that led to the Sassa crisis where Black Sash had to make an urgent application to the Constitutional Court,” said Abrahams-Fayker.
“This begs the question as to what measures are being put in place to ensure that beneficiaries do not pay the price for these arrangements given that transport costs will be incurred in areas where these retailers are not close by. Black Sash’s finding of a study it did on the Sassa decommissioned cash pay points has relevance in the current context that rural social grant beneficiaries appear worse affected, as there is not always access to a retailer or the National Payment System infrastructure, including ATMs. For many rural grant beneficiaries, the time and distance travelled to access grants has increased significantly with exorbitant transport costs which they cannot afford.”
Abrahams-Fayker said a strong communication and media strategy was crucial on the part of the Department of Social Development and Sassa to ensure that beneficiaries were aware of the changes. She also implored them to strengthen their strategy to ensure that the changes implemented were not at the expense of beneficiaries.
This came as Social Development Minister Minister Lindiwe Zulu announced during her budget vote on Friday that her department had allocated R44 billion for the distribution of the R350 grant this year alone.
Zulu said the budget allocation for the 2022/23 financial year was R257 billion. She said R248 billion of the total budget has been allocated to cover more than 18 million social grants beneficiaries.
This constitutes 99.6% of the department’s total budget allocation in the current financial year. Zulu added that R44 billion of the R248 billion has been earmarked for the payment of SRD grants.
“This means that each month 10.5 million approved applicants will receive this important social safety net intervention that cushions them and their families against the constants of unemployment and poverty. This grant type is increasingly taking advantage of commonplace data and digital infrastructures to process applications and conduct verifications. Therefore, the need for physical contact is greatly reduced,” Zulu said in Parliament.
She said the application channels for the grant for the period from April 2022 to March 2023, as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, was opened on 23 April 2022. By 30 April 2022, Zulu added, in excess of 8.1 million applications had already been received.
“I assure all qualifying applicants that they will be in receipt of their payments for this iteration of the grant by June. On the question of the accessibility of grant payment infrastructure, Sassa is extending its negotiations to include local fast moving consumer goods traders as part of their payment outlets for the Covid-19 SRD grant. I wish to reiterate our government’s commitment and readiness to fight crime syndicates and criminals who are defrauding the State,” she said.
Zulu said her department was continuing to work together with the relevant law enforcement agencies to ensure that criminal syndicates and their actions were detected, isolated, arrested and successfully prosecuted.
“We are coming for you!,” Zulu said.
Zulu also defended Sassa’s decision to dump the post office, saying she was confident that retail shops would successfully take over the payment of the grants and improve service delivery. Some grant recipients welcomed Sassa’s decision to cut ties with the post office, saying its services were bad due to long queues and limited funds.
Another resident from Orlando, Sthembiso Radebe, 32, said he never wanted to receive his grant from the post offices because of the long queues. Radebe, who is also playing drums as a hustle, said he preferred to get his money through his bank account.
“This doesn’t affect me, but I am happy about the decision. I have been telling my friends to open bank accounts. Standing in queues at the post office is a waste of time. And some of the people would stand in the queues because they have nothing to do,” said Radebe.
Thabo Madi, 31, who lives in Diepkloof, Soweto, said although he was happy about the decision, he would not be affected because he was already receiving his money at the retail stores. “I am happy because there would be no long queues. The queues are the reason I saw it better to withdraw my money at Pick n Pay store. At the store, there are no long queues. I think this will help people not to stand in the long queue in these cold weathers and heavy rains,” Madi said. He said he also does piece jobs to survive.
In Sebokeng, Monica Mosala, 39, said she also prefers receiving the R350 grant through her bank account. Mosala, an unemployed mother of two children, said she was also doing the piece jobs to feed her family.
“I have been receiving it through my bank account, and I am able to withdraw at any time. I think the decision for people not to receive money from the post offices is a good idea. There were a lot of fights in the queues because some people bribed the officials and security to be the first in the queues. At least everyone will open the bank accounts now,” Mosala said.