Sassa rolls out plans to address lockdown constraints

Elderly and disabled will be able to access their social grants early.
A number of measures have been put in place to make sure things proceed as safely and as swiftly as possible. Image: Supplied

Monday sees the first major logistics challenge to the government’s strict 21-day lockdown conditions as plans are rolled out to make early payments of social grants to over four million of the most vulnerable of the country’s 12 million recipients.

The exceptional arrangements are designed to allow just over three million elderly and one million disabled social grant recipients to collect their grants on Monday and Tuesday, ahead of the traditional first of the month payout date.

Major retailers such as Pick n Pay, Spar and Shoprite, who distribute around one third of the grants, have prepared for the new measures.

A spokesperson for Pick n Pay told Moneyweb it was opening up over 150 stores from 06:00 on Monday to help these customers access their grants in a safe environment. The social grant customers will have a dedicated shopping time. “We are putting in place security and crowd control measures to help customers stay safe in queues through social distancing,” said the spokesperson, adding that staff will be on duty to help customers sanitise in the queue and as they come into the store.

Staggering of payments welcomed

Shoprite said it welcomed the staggering of the payments and will be doing its very best to facilitate this week’s payments “quickly and efficiently while protecting the well-being of both customers and employees”.

Crowd control will be implemented at store level and measures will vary from store to store,  Shoprite told Moneyweb. Customers will be asked to maintain a social distance of at least one metre. Security will only permit 10 people into a store at a time. “Throughout the day security will walk up and down the queue outside the store and offer to spray customers’ hands with disinfectant.”

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) says the emphasis on prioritising the elderly and disabled is designed to ease congestion at retailers and bank ATMs and minimise the risk of infection. “Beneficiaries who normally collect their grants at cash pay points will be able to collect their grants at the pay points from Friday April 3 according to the different specific dates communicated to them in the previous payment cycle,” said Sassa.

The agency said beneficiaries at Sassa paypoints and post offices will be provided with hand sanitisers to prevent infections. “All necessary measures will be put in place to ensure that social distance is adhered to.”

Extra cash dispensers

Additional cash dispensers will be used to ensure that there is no overcrowding at the usual one or two dispensers at the Sassa and post office paypoints. “This will increase the speed of serving clients to ensure that there is full compliance with provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 as amended.”

Lynette Maart, national director of the Black Sash, welcomed the early payment move, describing it as “really useful”.  She said that because the payment days were on ‘work days’ some assistance would be provided by retailers and at ATM pay points. But even with this assistance, she said, there would be challenges. Many of the retailers have small spaces. “There will be a need to manage the payouts to ensure people keep the social distancing and have access to sanitiser.”

Maart has challenged the banks to ensure that people queuing at ATMs for long periods have access to sanitisers. “We’re asking banks to provide better services at the ATMs.”

Standard Bank spokesperson Ross Linstrom told Moneyweb the bank is prepared. “We have the appropriate measures in place,” he said.

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The lockdown is more a test of South Africa’s culture than a test of its democracy.

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