Beneficiaries queue for their grants at a payout point of the South African Social Security Agency. File photo: DAILY DISPATCH
Beneficiaries queue for their grants at a payout point of the South African Social Security Agency. File photo: DAILY DISPATCH

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) has apologised to the nation for a crisis which led to some grant beneficiaries not being able to access their money since the beginning of this week.

The social grant distributing agency’s acting chief executive‚ Abraham Mahlangu‚ told Parliament’s portfolio committee on social development that the affected beneficiaries could not receive their grants due to a glitch in the system which had taken a strain due to the high number of people who had registered with the Post Office.

"This was not taken lightly by us‚ we don’t undermine our vulnerable. We should be showing that we are a caring government. It is for that reason that we apologise to the nation‚" he said.

Abraham said the SA Post Office’s account profile was at about 233‚000 accounts in May and had jumped to over 930‚000 since they started with the card swap and opening of new Sassa cards. This and the multiple attempts to access grants by the beneficiaries had contributed to the strain in the system which had led to the timing out.

He said technical glitches were first experienced when the payment cycle was opened around midnight on June 30 whereby a number of people trying to access their social grants using the new Sassa cards could not get the money.

"We also realised there was another error which caused the timing out: It was the line that connects SA Post Office’s integrated grant payment system with the banks’ server as part of the transaction processing. That was also throttled by the huge volumes‚" said Mahlangu.

The third issue related to the over-the-counter limit where beneficiaries couldn’t withdraw values over R1‚500 as this was the threshold. The cap had since been removed‚ he said‚ while some couldn’t withdraw cash from the Spar group due to acquiring banks not having updated their systems as far as the Spar group was concerned. This too‚ has been resolved according to Mahlangu.

"We are having a full handle on the matter. The issue about the system performance has improved drastically. I am monitoring the system on an hourly basis nationally. I am getting positive reports which are saying people are beginning to get their grants and we should not even need to activate any relief measure. They are confident that they will finish the queues by close of business today‚" he said‚ speaking to the committee’s chairperson‚ Zoleka Capa‚ over the phone.

Mahlangu‚ who was put on a loudspeaker‚ told MPs that he couldn’t attend the parliamentary meeting as he had to be on the ground addressing the crisis.

A Sassa executive member‚ Dianne Dunkerley‚ also apologised for the "serious stress that we had caused". She said people who couldn’t access their money earlier this week could try again on Thursday or Friday by going to a merchant where they could withdraw money through a point of sale there‚ or to a bank ATM or to a post office. They don’t all have to go to a post office‚ she said.

Dunkerley said the problem had been confined only to the new Sassa cards‚ and everybody else had been getting their money without a problem. "The problem was confined to about 700‚000 out of the 10.8-million [recipients] that we pay..."

She said the money had been successfully transferred into the new Sassa card accounts but that the challenge came when beneficiaries had tried to access it or withdraw the cash.

Trial runs were done but the challenge became apparent when a large volume of people flooded the system at the same time.

MPs still raised concerns about why potential problems were not picked up earlier and only picked up on the pay day‚ saying they have been receiving queries from beneficiaries who were still experiencing problems including not having the new cards.

Senior officials from the KwaZulu-Natal‚ Northern Cape and Mpumalanga provincial governments who attended the meeting complained about poor communication from Sassa’s national office about the transition.

Head of the KwaZulu-Natal social development department, Nokuthula Khanyile, said the issues were supposed to be picked up when a proper risk assessment was done.

"You know that the maximum when you withdraw from the Post Office is so much and you know your people are earning so much. It’s issues that were supposed to be detected and prevented."

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