'Mistreatment of vulnerable people' owing to social grants glitch - SAHRC

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The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is "deeply concerned" about the circumstances around the provision of grants to the elderly and disabled on Monday.

"Millions of vulnerable people expected to receive their monthly grants but were confronted with a myriad of challenges created by a reported system failure or glitch which resulted in the non-payment of grants. To exacerbate the situation, a large proportion of these people were constrained to stand or sit in long queues during the Covid-19 lockdown, reportedly without adhering to social distancing guidelines which placed them under considerable health risks," the commission said in a statement on Tuesday.

Some social grant beneficiaries in Pietermaritzburg slept outside the Langalibalele Post Office on Monday night after a "glitch" in the system delayed their payouts, GroundUp reported.

The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) was hit by accidental double payments in some areas, and no payments in others, due to glitches in the system as it tried to make payment days less crowded by extending the dates, News24 reported.

About 435 000 people in the Western Cape reportedly received duplicate payments, while 450 000 old-age grant recipients in KwaZulu-Natal did not receive payments at all.

Lack of care by Sassa

The SAHRC said it was concerned about a lack of care by Sassa to ensure the timely payment of social grants.

"Of particular concern is the recurrence of such challenges over the last few years. The commission hopes that adequate measures will be taken by the Department of Social Development (DSD) and Sassa to ensure that grants are provided to persons with disabilities and older persons in a timely fashion and that such circumstances, as occurred yesterday, do not occur again in the future. The DSD should further hold those responsible accountable.

READ | Lockdown: Sassa payment glitches leave some without cash, while others get paid double

"The commission also calls on the executive of government to take action and effectively address the recurring mistreatment of vulnerable people during payments of social grants. The latest occurrence is but one of many that point to significant shortfalls in the capacity of service providers to effectively provide social grants to the most vulnerable," the SAHRC said.

On Tuesday, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu told News24 that the glitch occurred when adding grants for Covid-19 relief, which caused a technical error.

"I was informed by Sassa CEO [Busisiwe Memela-Khambula] during a meeting on Sunday that there was a technical problem that was going to affect the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal."

Unable to resolve issue in time

Zulu said despite efforts to engage the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and other technology companies involved in the processing of grant payments, they were unable to resolve the issue, despite working throughout Sunday night.

"I still need to get a proper report in writing that says exactly where and how the glitch happened. I won't be able to say who was responsible until I get a full briefing on the matter."

The SAHRC said more than 5 million older and disabled people receive grants in South Africa.

"While the commission appreciates and welcomes the recently announced increases, it notes that the grant amount is still not enough to alleviate the levels of poverty experienced by older persons and persons with disabilities, who are considered to be amongst the chronically poor, and who are often responsible for taking care of themselves in addition to many in their families who depend on them for survival.

"Section 27 of the Constitution provides that everyone has the right to have access to social security and, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependents, to appropriate social assistance. The provision (or lack) of social grants has an impact on other significant human rights including food, clothing and housing, health and education, amongst others."

No more glitches

In a statement, Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi said child grants were expected to be paid from Wednesday and would not be affected by any glitches.

"[Sassa] wishes to apologise for the inconvenience caused to the affected beneficiaries..." Letsatsi said.


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