Long queues and system glitches tormented pensioners last week as they tried to renew their South African Social Security Agency gold cards and get their grants.
Some 5.9 million recipients of social grants transact through the gold cards and most of the cards will expire by the end of June, according to Sassa.
Pensioners have swamped the Grassy Park post office in recent weeks to renew the cards but have been left standing in long queues because of staff shortages, load shedding and inadequate seating.
Ann Bouwers, 76, of Lotus River, said she had caught a taxi to the post office three times to renew her card. She has arthritis and the queue had been too long for her to stand in during her first trip and on the second occasion, the post office had been hit by load shedding.
“I had to spend money for a taxi three times, which costs a lot of money, and knowing what we get as pensioners. It is truly sad what we have to endure as senior citizens to access services that are supposed to make our lives easier, but it’s so difficult.”
“I have arthritis and find it difficult to stand for too long, but there were people a lot frailer than me who had to wait in these long lines.”
SA Post Office spokeswoman Suzie Khumalo said the factors causing the delays were beyond their control.
“For instance, Home Affairs systems being offline and because the systems are linked it results in delays.”
She said the branch had enough staff but added that more would be on hand in future.
“During load shedding, no online service can be offered at the branch, and, at the moment, the post office does not have plans in place to procure generators.”
Chairs were available at the branch during Sassa payment days, she said.
To take the strain off the Grassy Park post office, the City made the Grassy Park civic centre available for card renewals.
Ward councillor Donavan Nelson said many relied on the grants to survive, and renewing the cards was vital to keep the grant payments flowing.
“The local post office had been struggling to cope with the demand, with complaints about insufficient seating and the lack of ablution facilities so we stepped in to provide much-needed support to the community.”
The post office operated from the centre from Wednesday April 19 to Friday April 21, but beneficiaries from all over were advised to go there leading to longer queues, and some pensioners were turned away because of system glitches.
Grassy Park pensioner Farouk Abrahams, 69, said he had waited in line for hours and many seniors had been told to come back because it was load shedding.
“It is unfair to be subjected to such pathetic service. We deserve better as pensioners because we are frail, sick and too tired to be going through all this. While I was there, someone fainted because they were waiting so long, and whoever is at fault needs to take responsibility and find a way to make such transactions easier and safer for us.”
In a statement, Sassa apologised for the problems and said although many gold cards would expire by the end of June, payments would continue to be made normally and funds would be available in client’s bank accounts. To access the funds, recipients would either have to replace their gold cards – at a designated post office, a Postbank venue or a participating retailer – or use the cardless withdrawal option provided by Postbank.
Recipients who choose to get their payment through their personal bank account must submit a proof of bank account or three months of bank statements with their personal details, and their IDs, to a Sassa office.
The agency said it intended to increase its capacity to enable faster processing of requests to change payment methods, and it would extend office hours, increase staff and have dedicated queues for card replacements.