Telecommunications and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele on Monday urged branch managers of the South African Post Office (Sapo) to pull up their socks and install the required infrastructure in preparation for the payment of social grants to millions of beneficiaries.
On Monday, Cwele visited the Post Office at the Pan Africa Mall in Alexandra to get a first-hand on-the-ground experience of the payments of social grants and obtain feedback to ensure appropriate payments plans.
A joint announcement by Cwele and the minister of social development said on Friday the Post Office and the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) would be ready to take over the payments of social grants from Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) on September 30, and that the CPS contract would not be renewed.
Cwele was probably not ready for the chaos and a raft of challenges he encountered as the post office branch seemed ill-equipped and not prepared to pay social grants to hundreds of recipients. However, he insisted that the post office will be up to the task.
The Pan Africa Mall branch of the Post Office had only two – out of four – working computers; did not have chairs or benches, forcing the elderly and the sick recipients to stand in long queues; and opened at 8.30am while grants recipients started queuing outside at 7am. But still, grant recipients got paid – albeit at a steady pace.
“At post office, we say they must make more contingencies because if the machines at the banks do not work, people flock here and they must still be paid. So it is still the management issue for local managers to ensure they liaise with Sassa. Those are the things that we hope that as the system matures, we will find better ways for. We are confident that we will be able to take over from CPS come 1st of October,” Cwele said.
“What we have said is that in the next payment, they must convert this office because we don’t need offices, we need more pay-points. This is a busy area. We are getting a network guy to try and repair that computer because if four computers can work, it can be much faster. Those are the things we are trying to resolve so that we ease the pressure for both the recipients and our employees.”
Grants recipient, Thandi Mbatha, said that it was her first time collecting her disability grant at the Pan Africa Mall branch and was irked that there were no chairs. At least 20 plastic chairs were brought in later when the elderly started complaining that they could collapse at any moment.
“At my previous pay-point, we used to have chairs to sit down while we were queuing. I’m also afraid that they will deduct money from me as they deducted R25 last month. They never tell us what these deductions are for. They used to tell us that they were keeping the money for us, but come December we would get nothing,” Mbatha said.
Cwele urged the grants recipients to migrate to the new social grants payment cards and use the post office in order to avoid illegal deductions and also because the cards came with no charges.