The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) appears to still be teetering on the edge of disaster, with thousands of angry grant recipients still in the dark about their money.
Many recipients were unable to claim their grants this week because of glitches in the system as Sassa switches over from its old service provider, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), to its new one, the SA Post Office.
Sassa has said the issues should be resolved by the end of the week, but reports of chaotic scenes from across the country continue to pour in.
According to the Daily Maverick, the problem boiled down to the IT system being strained and timing out as people tried to get their grants with their new Sassa-issued cards. There were also reportedly problems with over-the-counter withdrawals because of limits on these, and it appeared as though banks had not loaded the PIN numbers of the new cards.
It was estimated that about 700,000 beneficiaries have been affected.
There were reportedly incidents in Northern Cape, where the head of social development said there were "chaotic scenes" as around 4,000 grant beneficiaries were affected, and in Pietermaritzburg, where the social development head said there had been threats to burn down the post office.
Sassa acting chief executive Abraham Mahlangu reportedly apologised for the problem during an address to Parliament's portfolio committee on social development on Wednesday.
According to TimesLive, he said: "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."
According to eNCA, in its presentation to Parliament Sassa said that all recipients would receive their grants by the end of the week, but those who withdraw their grants from ATMs would have to wait longer.
The crisis has been exacerbated by Sassa employees belonging to the Public Servants Association (PSA) going on strike. The PSA reportedly represents about half of the employees at Sassa pay points and registration centres.
On Monday, Minister of Social Development Susan Shabangu applied for an interdict against the strike, saying it was negatively affecting the roll-out of social grants and that the employees were essential services workers who are not allowed to strike.
On Wednesday, according to the Mail & Guardian, the matter was struck off the roll with costs and the parties were ordered to start negotiations within seven days. Workers were ordered to return to their posts on Thursday.
While the PSA claimed the ruling as a victory for its members, Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi told News24 that it was open to negotiation, as long as it was within the confines of the law.
A pensioner from Palm Springs on the East Rand told TimesLive that she was turned away on Monday and Tuesday. She also collects a disability grant for her brother. Crying, she said she stayed far away from the Sassa office in Soweto and had spent a lot of money travelling to collect the grant.
She told the publication that even when she received the money on Wednesday, it was R200 short.
There has also been confusion regarding the new Sassa cards. According to IOL, grant recipients are supposed to swop their old cards for the new cards issued by the post office. But recipients must go to a Sassa office to do so, and this is difficult for the elderly.
South Africa Post Office chief operating officer Lindiwe Kwele told IOL it was important for grant recipients to swop the cards before September 30. Kwele said the process takes about three minutes, and that the post office would soon become a card-swop channel.
Long queues were the order of the day around the country. A month ago, pensioners in Pretoria began queueing at 4am in the morning. One pensioner, 75-year-old Lucy Macheke, told the Pretoria North Rekord that the office closed before she could be assisted.
According to the Daily Maverick, there were issues all the way from Soweto to Athlone in Cape Town.
Recipients in Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal complained of the long queues this week. But according to the Stanger Weekly, they expressed relief that there would be no deductions from grants under the new system, something CPS was accused of doing.
Thobi Ngema from Ntshawini reportedly said the new system was much safer, as recipients could collect their grants from the post office or at any bank.
The new system, once it is fully operational, is said to have a lot of new features, such as free over-the-counter cash withdrawals at the post office and unlimited free swipes at all merchants. The only deduction allowed will be for funeral policies, which are not allowed to be more than 10 percent of the grant value.