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

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

By Liezl Human

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.
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, 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.

“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.

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

  1. Today, only 626 post offices are still operational.

This is despite the fact that 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. www.groundup.org.za

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