More than 900 000 people are currently affected by SAPO’s struggles to render services to grant beneficiaries. While this may be only 5% of social grant beneficiaries, this is not acceptable. According to SASSA, at least 500 000 collect their grants at SAPO branches and 150 000 are affected by the possibility of their mobile cash pay points being closed, which in turn will force them to find alternate payment channels at short notice.
The Department of Social Development (DSD)’s claim that it affects a minority of beneficiaries somehow makes it justifiable is deplorable. These are the elderly and people living with disabilities, who still choose SAPO branches as the primary means of accessing their grant, an option legally guaranteed to them by SASSA.
In its briefing to the Portfolio Committee on Social Development, DSD reports that it is on an active drive to ensure SASSA cards are active. SASSA officials are also on site at SAPO pay points encouraging beneficiaries to change their method of payment to banks to avoid any challenges if SAPO is unable to facilitate payments, even though using banks incurs additional costs for the beneficiary. Elderly members of the community and those living with disabilities, are amongst beneficiaries that have had to shoulder the burden of seeking alternative payment channels since the closure of many SASSA community pay points, creating fear and anxiety.
DSD acknowledges that their long-term service delivery is intrinsically linked to SAPO’s capacity. The entity has experienced regular cash shortages, non-payment of staff and service providers, strikes, a shrinking SAPO footprint. Additionally, they were impacted by the withdrawal of services without adequate warning to the DSD and beneficiaries. Fraud, inadequate service delivery, security, transportation, time management and equipment issues have negatively impacted the experience of beneficiaries.
These challenges are not new. The Black Sash has raised its concerns since the introduction of the Social Distress Relief (SRD) by DSD and SASSA. There have been no significant efforts made to address these challenges, leaving grant beneficiaries to bear the brunt of SAPO’s inefficiencies.
There was much confusion as to whether SAPO would be paying social grants for the June cycle due to the cash shortage in May. Conflicting messages about whether media statements referred to the SRD grant or other grants, and at the last-minute requesting beneficiaries to make use of alternative payment channels such as retailers and banks. While SAPO assured everyone that social grant payments would go ahead smoothly, the situation on the ground was in sharp contrast.
Although the first payments were scheduled for the 2 June 2022, most SAPO branches were unable to process payments. They experienced connectivity issues, resulting in their inability to facilitate biometric authentication. Black Sash and community monitoring partners witnessed these challenges. Subsequent delays were reported at local offices in different provinces including at the Pietermaritzburg Main SAPO, Howick SAPO in KwaZulu Natal and Kariega SAPO branch in the Eastern Cape.
Delays in the arrival of cash as well as shortages thereafter resulted in beneficiaries being forced to leave and seek alternative payment channels or return the following day. This was noted in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.
Safety and security at many SAPO branches have deteriorated alarmingly which poses a threat to grant beneficiaries, particularly women, the elderly, and persons living with disabilities. There are inadequate security measures in place at sides because of SAPO’s flagging finances.
In Mpumalanga Standerton Post Office was robbed on 2 June, halting payments on the 2nd and 3rd of June as the site was now a crime scene. Many beneficiaries had to wait to return on the 6th of June to access their payments as they have a morbid fear of technology and do not remember their Pin Numbers.
Monitoring at Amanzimtoti SAPO in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Black Sash and community partner, KwaMakutha Community Resource Centre, witnessed a fatal hijacking which put the safety of grant beneficiaries at stake. The SAPO branch was forced to stop paying grants due to the high level of robberies that they themselves had experienced.
SASSA and SAPO are compelled by law to provide social grants in line with their own Norms and Standards. The deteriorating state of SAPO across the country, and the impact this is having on the most vulnerable members of our society, mean that both SASSA and SAPO are falling ever further short of acceptable standards of service delivery.
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