Post Office delivers mixed bag for social grant recipients
“We will die standing in this queue” says pensioner
October marked the end of cash payments to social grant beneficiaries by Cash Paymaster Services (CPS). The South African Post Office has taken over.
Many of the old cash paypoints were closed and beneficiaries who chose to withdraw their grants in cash had to go to their local post office, ATMs or some stores. In some places, payments went smoothly; in others, beneficiaries complained that they had to travel much further than they used to and stand in longer queues. GroundUp reporters visited several post offices.
“We will die standing in this queue,” said Nomkhethelo Biyela from Maqongqo in Pietermaritzburg. Biyela, 75, was one of the social grant beneficiaries queueing at the post office in Langalibalele Street on Monday 1 October.
When GroundUp arrived at 1pm, Biyela had been queueing since 5am, she said.
Only one staff member was available for paying grants.
KwaZulu-Natal Post Office spokesperson Nobuhle Njapha said the Post Office had appointed queue marshals in Pietermaritzburg, and wheelchair users and the sick were being taken to the front of the queue.
“We have water bottles, folding chairs and tables and are now busy buying additional chairs and will also provide marquee tents where they are required and can be fitted into the available space,” said Njapha.
But when GroundUp visited, the tent could not accommodate all the beneficiaries and some had to queue outside. There were not enough chairs and there was not enough room for wheelchairs. Elderly women were sitting on the bare floor.
“We are standing outside without any shade,” said Biyela. “We are tired. No one is coming out to tell us what is happening inside.”
“Our government should come and see what we are going through.”
Mirriam Sokhela from France location said she had come at about 6am. She complained about the heat, especially inside the two mobile toilets which had been supplied.
“A security guard told us that there is only one person who is making the payments inside. One person cannot handle all of us. We are hungry and sick. There is no priority for sick and disabled people. We are all standing in one queue,” said Sokhela.
Zondeni Mchunu, also from France location, said she was diabetic and could not stand for long. “But here I have no choice. We have no money to buy lunch. My grandchildren are expecting me to come back home with food. It doesn’t look like I’m going to get paid today. I’m not even in the middle of the queue,” Mchunu said.
GroundUp visited another post office in Selgro Centre. Beneficiaries were complaining about the queue which they said was not moving. Some said the old system had worked better than the post office.
Bongumusa Mpanza, 76, said at the CPS cash point in Impendle there had been chairs and the elderly and sick had been prioritised. “Here we are all in one queue.”
Wheelchair user Nombuso Ndlovu from Imbali told GroundUp she had spent R250 to be driven to the post office. “If I don’t get paid today, I will have to pay another R250 tomorrow. That is R500 already. Where am I going to get that kind of money?”
Njapha said the Post Office had experienced “connection challenges” during the morning of 1 September. “These issues have now been solved and the system is running smoothly,” she said. Beneficiaries could also use merchants or ATMs to withdraw cash, and swipe their cards for free at all shops. “Beneficiaries get three free cash withdrawals per month at supermarkets – Shoprite, Checkers, Pick ‘n Pay, Boxer, and Spar,” said Njapha.
In Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape some beneficiaries who started queueing as early as 5am had to wait for more than eight hours to get their money from their local post office.
Some said they had been told to come back the following day because the post office closed at 4pm. Some were turned away because they didn’t have their IDs.
Officials had to supply water and chairs to those who were queuing outside, but there were not enough chairs. Some pensioners sat on pieces of paper on the pavement waiting for the queue to move so they could get to chairs.
By lunch time the post office had to stop other services and focus on paying social grants beneficiaries.
Only one of two mobile toilets was working.
Nosayinethi Magoqwana from Mtyamtyam village said when she arrived at 5am there were already people queueing outside. At midday she was still queueing.
“At 2am I was already up waiting for transport we hired to take us here.” She said she had paid R80 for the return trip, leaving the village at 3am with nine other passengers.
“We never complained about using our pay points. I don’t know why they closed them,” she said. She received her money at 1:20pm.
An elderly man from Magwala village said he had started queueing at 7am and he got his money at 3:30pm.
On Tuesday again, elderly people started queueing as early as 5am.
Noigland Maseti, 64, from Ngxabangu village, said she left her home before 4am. She said she and seven others had hired a car for R60 return. When GroundUp arrived at the post office at about 6am, Maseti was sitting on cement at the entrance. By the time guards opened the gates at 8:30am there were already close to 100 people lined up.
Nozibele Mbekile from Ngquqhu village said she had to pay R60 out of her child support grant of R400 to go and collect the money.
Sassa spokesperson Luzuko Qina said beneficiaries had been told to bring IDs to withdraw money from the Post Office. He said recipients could also get their money early as grants were paid on Saturday (i.e. in September, before the usual grant payment date) to people with bank accounts.
In Mthatha, several beneficiaries told GroundUp on 1 October that they were satisfied with the new payment system. Most of them had the new gold SASSA/Post Office cards.
Nomaza Mxini, 64, said she found the new payment system more convenient and reliable. “We do not have long queues anymore and we can withdraw from the ATMs anytime now.”
Social grant transactions also went smoothly at the Mthatha post office. Queues were short and there were no delays. Standing in line, 71-year-old Mzikayise Mkhosi said, “I arrived here at noon and within two hours I was assisted. We used to spend the whole day at the pay points because of long queues.”
However, one beneficiary, 75-year-old Nomzamo Saliti, said she was scared to draw money in town from ATMs because of criminals. Mthatha centre is known for being a hotspot for crime, with thieves often targeting the elderly on social grant paydays.
GroundUp visited a post office and Shoprite in Retreat on Monday.
David Adams, 65, was collecting his old age grant. He had walked about 500 metres from his home. “I would like the police to be patrolling this road at least every 30 minutes. There are a lot of old people walking down this road and anything can happen.”
Christopher Williams said he preferred getting his disability grant from the post office because lines were shorter and it provided shelter when it rained.
At Shoprite, the queue outside was starting to get longer by late morning. The only complaint by most people in the queue was that there were no chairs or toilet facilities. Pensioner Nettie Brown said she had collected her grant from Shoprite for the past five years.
“I’ve been standing in line for two hours but it has always been like this,” she said.
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