Pensioners wait in a queue at a Sassa pay point in Mpumalanga. Picture: SOWETAN
Pensioners wait in a queue at a Sassa pay point in Mpumalanga. Picture: SOWETAN

The South African Social Development Agency (Sassa) and the South African Post Office would conduct a dry run of paying out social grants on the new system in August before having to go it alone, Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu said.

The Constitutional Court has given Sassa until September 31 to end its contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), which facilitates cash payments to 2.5-million beneficiaries.

In March 2018, the apex court granted a further six-month extension of Sassa’s illegal contract with CPS after the agency once again failed to get its house in order.

Millions of beneficiaries

The disclosure that Sassa would not be able to take over grants once the contract of CPS expired in April 2017 caused panic over whether the millions of beneficiaries would be paid.

Under former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini’s stewardship, Sassa approached the Constitutional Court twice in a year to request it to allow the agency to extend the illegal contract with CPS.

In February, President Cyril Ramaphosa replaced Dlamini with Shabangu, in effect giving her the task of fixing the social grant debacle.

Shabangu, in an interview with Business Day on Friday, said Sassa and the department were making progress and would be able to take over the payment of grants by October 1.

She said that August would be the "testing month" and that where there were gaps in the system they could start fixing it.

"[We want to] make sure come September we run a smooth process and come October, when we take over completely, we don’t have any challenges," Shabangu said.

The minister said Sassa was making progress on swapping beneficiaries from the old Sassa card to the new Eurocard, Mastercard and Visa compliant card. The new card would make it easier for beneficiaries to access their grant money.

"We have just surpassed [the] 1-million card swap and therefore we are left with about 1.3-million to 1.4-million [which still need to be swapped].

"We managed to do the card swap within less than 15 days last month. If we can do that, it also means we will meet our target in terms of delivering to the court," Shabangu said.

It has been alleged that under Dlamini one of the biggest stumbling blocks preventing Sassa from taking over the payment of grants from CPS was the controversial workstreams she appointed. It was said the workstreams frustrated the process.

Shabangu said she did not know what work they did.

"I can’t relate to [the workstreams], even today," she said.

Shabangu has appointed her own team, which is helping Sassa deal with its challenges. That team, she said, was nothing like Dlamini’s workstreams.

The team she had assembled played a monitoring role and looking at legal challenges.

Sassa and the department had reported this team to the court and explained what the team’s role was.

When asked what she believed went wrong before, Shabangu said part of the problem was the department’s failure to follow the court’s direction back in 2013.

The court had given Sassa five years to end its contract with CPS and take over the payment of grants.

"For whatever reasons that wasn’t followed. That was our weakness as government.

"If we could have listened and followed through the court process I don’t think we would be having such a challenge today," Shabangu said.