Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu says South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) grant recipients who received double payments because of a technical glitch will have to pay back their accidental windfall.
This after the agency made accidental double payments in some areas and no payments in others owing to "glitches" in its system as it tried to process payments to the elderly and disabled earlier to avoid overcrowding, News24 reported on Monday.
Approximately 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.
Zulu told News24 on Tuesday that the glitch was as a result of adding additional 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."
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."
According to Zulu, a virtual meeting with all role players, including the MECs of the affected provinces, will be held on Tuesday to get to the bottom of what caused the error. "Sassa is expected to explain that to us during this meeting."
Double payments can't be reversed
Zulu said reversing the monies paid to recipients in the Western Cape would be difficult.
"If people have already accessed the money, it cannot be reversed, unless there are those who haven't yet withdrawn the money. The system can pick that up easily," Zulu said.
"But in terms of those who were paid double - we have to get that money back. It's government money and people must be honest about it. But I know some people won't pay it back. So we will have to deduct this from future payments.
"Government has to take responsibility and meet citizens halfway, but citizens also have a responsibility - that's the bottom line for me.
"We still have to determine how we will get the money back, but ultimately, we have to."
Sassa earlier said it expected things will run more smoothly from Tuesday.
Zulu said that officials have been "working around the clock" to ensure that payments are effected without more problems.
The agency added that its systems have now stabilised and relevant reversals effected to avoid a similar occurrence of Monday.
The agency had blamed the blunder on being short-staffed due to the national Covid-19 lockdown during the processing stages of the payment.
"As more of our employees return to work, our capacity will also increase so that today's situation is not repeated in the future. Our sincere apologies to all those affected negatively by this situation," spokesperson Kgomoco Diseko said in a reply to News24.
Grants for the elderly and persons with disabilities would be paid on 4 and 5 May and others from Wednesday 6 May, the agency said.
Child grants to be paid from Wednesday
In a statement, another spokesperson for the agency, Paseka Letsatsi, said child grants were expected to be paid from Wednesday and would not be affected by any glitches. Letsatsi appealed to beneficiaries of child grants not to attempt to withdraw the monies earlier than Wednesday.
"[Sassa] wishes to apologise for the inconvenience caused to the affected beneficiaries and would like to assure everyone that the matter will be completely resolved between [Monday] afternoon and [Tuesday] morning," Letsatsi said.
GroundUp reported scores of social grant beneficiaries in Pietermaritzburg returned home on Monday without receiving their old age pension grant at the Post Office and from bank ATMs.
The publication reported that beneficiaries who collect their pension from the Pietermaritzburg Post Office in Langalibalele Street returned empty-handed after waiting in long queues.
Grants were previously paid on the first of the month for all beneficiaries but the agency has since changed the system to reduce overcrowding at pay points as the country fights the coronavirus pandemic.
"I still have to report back to [President Cyril Ramaphosa]," Zulu said. "In addition, it is my responsibility as a minister to look at what other methods we can use to give dignity to our people so that they don't have to queue like they've been doing all these years - we have to change it."