23 September 2018


SASSA working against time to pay grants amid IT glitches 

by: Nthusang Lefafa   date: 06 july 2018

It was supposed to be a card swap and transition that brings better benefits and choices for social grant recipients, but this month, the payment of social grants became a nightmare for recipients. 
Many have been turned away or sent from one paypoint to a bank or South African Post Office (SAPO) without success. 
But the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) says it’s got “full handle on the matter” of grants payments and that beneficiaries would receive their monies. 
Almost all provinces have been affected by a technical glitch that SASSA said was caused by a “system overload”. The outcry got so bad that after a few days of problems, SASSA Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Abraham Mahlangu, addressed Parliament at the lawmakers’ request. 
Though he spoke to Members of Parliament (MPs) through a telephone because he could not attend the meeting in person as he was still monitoring the payment problems, Mahlangu said “issues about the system performance has improved drastically” by Wednesday.
He told the Portfolio Committee on Social Development that one of the causes of the system letdown was because of a strain caused by the fact that the Post Office Information Technology system was used to servicing about 233 000 people, but now with the migration of social grants those have increased to about 930 000 accounts. 
SASSA is in the process of phasing out Cash Paymaster Services, as directed by the Constitutional Court, and introducing social grants payments through the Post Office and banks. The old white Sassa card issued by Cash Paymaster Services would be fully phased out by 30 September and is being replaced by a new, gold card issued by the PostBank.
“What is being experienced is a result of a process of changing from an old to a new payment system for social grants,” said Mahlangu.
“The system was timing out after a certain number of minutes, then when that was diagnosed we found that the newly acquired system, the IGPS, was experiencing strain because of multiple attempts to access by the beneficiaries,” said Mahlangu.
In addition to this, there was an over-the-counter limit that only allowed beneficiaries to withdraw up to R1500, so some could not receive their full grants, he said. But that problem had since been resolved by removing the cap. 
“We are having a full handle on the matter. The issues about the system performance have improved drastically, I am getting positive reports which are saying people are beginning to get their grants and we should not even need to activate any relief measure,” said Mahlangu. 
He assured beneficiaries that their social grants would be paid in full. 
“In fact, the funds are already in their accounts. We request beneficiaries to give themselves at least three days to withdraw their grants,” the Acting CEO said. 
For many beneficiaries though, that assurance came a little too late. 
Morwesi Makiti (62) from Itsoseng told Semphete that she had spent three days trying to access her monthly R1500 disability grant without any success. This, she said, has made her life difficult.
“I walk on crutches and now for three days I have had to bear the winter cold to hear stories of how I am not able to access my money. I depend on this grant to buy mealie meal and now I am starving. My children also have many needs and it feels like I am failing as a parent if I cannot afford to buy them anything. Things were better in the past when we used the old card,” Makiti said. 
Sarah Tshabadira (46) - also from Itsoseng - told Semphete that she now has to go out begging for food from her neighbours because she is unemployed.
“My family is starving because I did not receive a child support grant for my two children who are in Grade 11 and Grade four. I am unemployed and this means that if I do not receive this much needed assistance from government we are unable to eat. When I arrived at the post office I was told that they were experiencing some network problems,” Tshabadira said. 
Helen Setside (60) from Bodibe Village near Itsoseng said when she changed to the gold card she was promised that it came with improved benefits but she was greeted with disappointment because she has not yet received her old age grant.
SASSA apologised for the inconvenience the technical problems had caused to beneficiaries and undertook to keep those expecting their grants informed.
Caption 1: Social grant beneficiary Morwesi Makiti said she had to wait out in the cold on her crutches for over three days only to be turned back
Photo by Nthusang Lefafa