“I’ve been waiting for this money since Wednesday last week because I wanted to buy potatoes. I use them a lot.”
These were the words of Sai Bakshi*, a 73-year-old pensioner from Marshalltown in Johannesburg, as she queued outside a Pick n Pay store at Newtown Junction Mall to collect her grant.
Owing to the implementation of the national lockdown, government announced that disability and old-age grants would be paid out to beneficiaries two days early.
The lockdown is a measure aimed at fighting the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
It requires citizens to practice social distancing and prohibits the running of non-essential services.
According to the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa), about 4.2 million transactions to the tune of R3.7 billion were processed through the Sassa/SA Post Office.
In addition, 3.1 million beneficiaries were paid through various commercial banks.
I’m also worried because I get vegetables cheaper from the street vendors than from the shops
Sai Bakshi*, pensioner
But for Bakshi, the grant could not have come soon enough.
“I’ve got R20 left, but I’ve been hanging on to it just in case,” she said as she took out a plastic money saver with two R10 notes folded together and some coins on the side.
In this year’s budget speech, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said more than 18 million people receive a grant, “which is a lifeline for many”.
Despite the R80 increase for the old age, disability and care dependency grants to R1 860 per month, Bakshi said the money was not enough to sustain her, with or without the lockdown in place.
“I pay for rent, electricity, food and toiletries. I don’t manage to get everything done by the end of the month.
“I try to save as much as I can by always switching off the lights. We don’t pay for water, but if I use water for one purpose I try to catch it in another bowl so I can use it for something else later.
“Now I’m also worried because I get vegetables cheaper from the street vendors than from the shops.
“This is how I’m struggling, but I keep quiet and zip my mouth. I cry, but there’s no visible tears coming out,” she said.
Sharing similar sentiments is a pensioner who preferred to be referred to as Ntate Sehako (62), from Soweto. With his grant, he supports his wife, two unemployed children and two grandchildren.
“My daughter stays with her boyfriend and the kids. My son stays with me where I’m renting, and my wife takes care of her family’s house,” he said.
Read: ‘They said the money is finished’ – pensioner who waited in queue for hours
Sehako said that even if he could afford to buy in bulk to avoid constantly going to the shops during the lockdown, he was worried that the food would spoil.
“I don’t have enough money to buy food that would last me for 21 days. Besides, where would I keep it?
“Perhaps if government were to sign us up for something so that they bring us groceries then things may be a bit better,” he said.
As the head of his family, Sehako also has to save money for his wife’s medical expenses.
“My wife is sick; she sometimes has fits. I visit her during the day to make sure she is okay.
“I also have to save some money in case she has a fit and I have to hire a car to rush her to the hospital.
“I explained her situation to the police so that they could allow me to visit her every day during the lockdown,” he told City Press.
Sehako said that although he could withdraw money at a bank with no additional charges, he preferred using the retailer.
“They say that the banks won’t take anything, but I don’t know if this will last till next month.”
Sassa spokesperson Kgomoco Diseko said banks wouldn’t charge for transactions on Sassa cards during the lockdown.
“The May payment date is not finalised as yet,” he said.
My wife is sick; she sometimes has fits. I visit her during the day to make sure she is okay. I also have to save some money in case she has a fit and I have to hire a car to rush her to the hospital.
Ntate Sehako, pensioner
Sehako said another concern was the lengthy queues when collecting grants because some people have diabetes and high blood pressure.
Mikateko Maluleke, the store manager at Pick n Pay Newtown, said although they opened a bit earlier to accommodate recipients, they had a delay with the money arriving late. However, Maluleke assured that no one would walk away without receiving their grant.
The glitches recognised by Sassa include “long queues, overcrowding, failure to comply with social distancing and hygiene guidelines at some pay outlets”.
Diseko said that precautionary measures were taken to ensure a smooth progression of the grant payments.
“Extra staff members were brought in and additional cash dispensers were delivered. It was well communicated that only the elderly and disabled would be served for the two days.
“In many malls and post offices, measures such as queuing and sitting arrangements were made,” Diseko told City Press.
As the payout process gets under way, the real challenges will continue as the vulnerable struggle to get through the end of the month.
*Not her real name