Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu has passed her condolences to the families of three elderly social grant recipients who passed away on Monday, the first day of grant payments under the national lockdown.
“We would like to pass out sincere condolences to the families of the grant recipients who lost their lives while on their way to collect or after collecting their payment,” Zulu said on Tuesday when giving an update as part of the social cluster ministers on how effective grant payments measures implemented under the lockdown by her ministry and the cash management industry were on the first day of social grant payments.
The minister said the deaths had occurred in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
“One person who passed away was in the Western Cape; he collapsed and died while on his way home back home after collecting his grant. In KZN the person collapsed at the post office while awaiting her turn to collect her grant.”
“In Gauteng, the pensioner collapsed and died while getting off a taxi before even getting to the post office to collect their grant,” said Zulu.
She chose to withhold their identities “in respect of their families”.
Zulu’s department was heavily criticised after pensioners were made to queue for hours – most of the day in some cases – to receive their social grants on Monday and Tuesday.
The minister admitted that there were numerous challenges faced by her department, the South African Post Office (Sapo), the cash management industry – including banks and retail stores – in ensuring that payment, as well as the buying of groceries by grant recipients, went smoothly.
“We [the department of social development] had requested that two days, Monday and Tuesday, be set aside for only the elderly and people with disabilities to collect their Sassa (SA Social Security Agency) grants while the rest of the recipients could utilise the rest of the week.
“This was not adhered to which caused not only shortages in money from ATMs but also long queues that made it almost impossible to comply with social distancing measures during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic,” said Zulu.
She added that her department, Sapo, Sassa and the banks held a teleconference to address the challenges.
“These are the things that we agreed to implement, to ensure that there is enough money in ATMs going into today, while the city of Johannesburg availed more volunteers to assist crowd management as recipients receive their grants,” said the minister.
Zulu said her department was also made aware of “transportation problems as a result of the taxi association strike” who made their grievances known to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalule.
The strike comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national lockdown, confining South Africans to their homes for at least 21 days.
The regulations enforced by the president included social distancing – a move that saw taxis having to ferry fewer passengers.
Under the restrictions, taxi drivers are not allowed to transport more than seven passengers at a time.
However, the SA National Taxi Council has called on the government to subsidise their imminent losses.
Even though there were challenges, Zulu said her department had managed to process about 4.2 million transactions to the tune of R3.7 billion for social grants on Monday alone.
“In addition, 3.1 million beneficiaries were paid through commercial banks,” said Zulu.
Payments of social grants to the elderly and persons with disabilities were being staggered throughout the week to curb overcrowding and long queues.
Zulu, however, lauded Sapo, the various social grant pay points and retail stores for a fast turnaround time after the initial long waiting hours experienced by grant recipients.
“There was a much quicker turnaround time this morning on different pay points that I visited with recipients spending less than five to 10 minutes,” said Zulu.
She added that another measure that had been put in place by her department was the increase in Sassa staff, “especially in Mpumalanga”.
“If you remember Mpumalanga province was the first to complain about shortages of money at most of its pay points,” said Zulu.
She also called for her department, Sapo and the banks to take this opportunity to continue looking for better ways to ensuring that there was easy access to the social grants for recipients.
“Today it is Covid-19 that is forcing us to make significant changes, tomorrow it might be another challenge, so we need to always have in place measures that will make the lives of our recipients easy,” said Zulu.