“Post office is crumbling under the pressure” says social grant activist

This comes as millions of gold SASSA cards will be expiring soon

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Chaos ensued outside the South African Post Office branch in Athlone, Cape Town this week amid the imminent expiry of millions of gold social grant cards. Photos: Ashraf Hendricks

  • Millions of gold SASSA cards are expiring over the next few months and post offices are overflowing with people needing to renew their cards.
  • Human rights organisation the Black Sash has raised concern about the limited staff to help beneficiaries as well as the way long queues are managed.
  • However, the Post Office says that queues outside its offices are not unusual during peak times, especially on grant payment dates.

Chaos ensued outside the South African Post Office branch in Athlone, Cape Town this week. This particular post office appears to be buckling under pressure as many of the gold social grant cards are expiring over the coming months, but the Black Sash is concerned the problem is widespread.

Social grants are loaded onto the gold cards through Postbank.

The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) had advised beneficiaries whose cards have expired, to visit their closest post office to collect a new card. However, not all of the post offices are able to offer card exchange services.

About 175,000 cards expired at the end of March, according to Postbank spokesperson Bongani Diako. He said that the post office has implemented a “staggered process” of issuing new cards. Nearly all beneficiaries whose cards expired in March have already been given new cards, said Diako.

But the number of grant beneficiaries who still need to be issued new cards is surging. In April, about 860,000 will expire, nearly 2.8-million in May and another 1.8-million in June, according to Postbank.

When GroundUp visited the post office in Athlone this week, there were very long queues outside. We found representatives from the Black Sash and its community partner, the Athlone District Advice Office, busy surveying beneficiaries who were in the line.

On Wednesday, Thandi Henkeman, Western Cape regional manager at Black Sash, said the number of people queuing at the office had gotten worse. She said the police were called to assist with crowd control.

Henkeman raised several concerns they witnessed which included the beneficiaries’ right to dignity. She said many elderly pensioners had been standing for hours, and since early morning, without any chairs or overhead protection from the weather.

She pointed out that the post office in Athlone has limited capacity to deal with all the people in need of new gold cards, in addition to beneficiaries who usually come there to collect their grants or people who need help with payment issues.

“The post office is crumbling under the pressure” and is ill-equipped to deal with the influx of people needing assistance now, she said.

“These rights are supposed to be inherently accessible to all South Africans, with the only precondition that you arrive. It’s not a privilege.” Henkeman said that the situation at the Athlone post office was indicative of what is currently happening at post offices across the country.

Pensioner Cecilia Daniels had been queuing outside the Athlone office since 5:30am in a bid to be among the first in line so she could be helped.

Other issues, she said, were about the safety of staff and beneficiaries after reports of robberies at a number of post offices.

Another issue was non-payment of approved grants. Cecilia Daniels, 75, had been queuing outside the Athlone office since 5:30AM. She was finally helped a few hours later. She had been sent back and forth, trying to find out why she had not been paid her old age grant since February. Daniels said she lives alone and had to borrow money from family to survive in February.

Post office workers are also facing mass retrenchments and wage cuts, according to a parliamentary report from March this year.

Many post offices have also been forced to close down in recent years. According to data compiled by The Outlier, there were 1,512 conventional post office branches and 697 Post Office Agencies in 2018. Today, only 626 post offices are still operational.

This is despite the fact that over over 6.3-million beneficiaries – or 54% of 11.7 million beneficiaries – were paid through the Post Office and Postbank in January 2023, the Outlier indicates.

In response to our questions, Diako said that “it is not unusual to find queues during peak periods of economic activity” at shops, ATMs, and shopping malls, especially during SASSA payment dates.

SASSA did not respond to our questions by the time of publication.

TOPICS:  Sassa Social Grants

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