The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) has a contingency plan for beneficiaries who need cash payments if the Constitutional Court says no to extending the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract, but it warned that it will "be inconvenient".
The Constitutional Court on Tuesday reserved judgment in the Sassa application to extend CPS contract by another six months.
The application was to ensure CPS can assist with a "phase-in, phase-out" period of six months, and to also continue making cash payments in rural areas.
Acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu assured journalists on Thursday that Sassa would pay directly into all beneficiary accounts come April 1, and that it would be reflected on their cards.
The problem remains the 2.8-million beneficiaries, just under 30%, who need to convert their grants into cash at pay points in remote areas.
"On April 1, should the court say no, people will be using pay points. Their cards will have the money, they just require pins to withdraw the money from other outlets," Bhengu explained.
These beneficiaries would need assistance on the day - receiving pin numbers and being pointed in the direction of, and transported to, the closest ATM.
The bulk of these beneficiaries were elderly or had disabilities, Bhengu said.
In the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, CPS warned of potential "chaos".
Bhengu acknowledged that "it will be very inconvenient", but added that "chaos may be too strong a word".
Post Office to aid with cash payments
SA Post Office (Sapo) CEO Mark Barnes said Sapo was currently upskilling staff to assist with cash payouts at their counters. It wouldn't, however, cover all beneficiaries in need of cash.
A phase-in process had started where, if a current Sassa paypoint was within 5km of a Sapo branch that met the norms and standards, that Sapo branch would take over the cash payments.
"As we speak, 743 people are completing their training to be placed at specific counters on March 16," Barnes said at the same press conference.
He said another 2 570 people would get specific training, to be completed by March 30, but that there were no counters for them to be placed at yet.
"It won't happen on April 1, but there will be cash payments and a Post Office teller to assist in an orderly way, once the upgrade of those interfaces have been complete."
The 5.7-million existing Sassa-Grindrod bank cards would be functional until December and the Post Office's new card would be ready in late April.
Sassa project leader Zodwa Mvlane assured that beneficiaries had received the information, to ensure there was a seamless transition.
They had been communicating at paypoints since December, as well as on community radio stations, at Imbizo functions and government events.
'No deductions' on new Post Office card
Barnes, meanwhile, said Sapo would launch a new Sassa beneficiary account on April 3, and that the offering would include "no deductions" for beneficiaries.
Testing of the bulk account opening process of an existing sample of 1 000 beneficiaries was "seamlessly" concluded in February, Barnes told journalists.
The offering would also include three free cash withdrawals, a free balance enquiry and mini-statement per month, a first free replacement card, and full free three-month statement.
Sassa, meanwhile, has taken over the funeral policy deductions of 727 000 beneficiaries from CPS.
Deductions are only legally allowed before the social grant is paid into a beneficiary's account.
Sassa was still in the process of appointing a service provider which would distribute social grants, using the new Sassa-Sapo card at all paypoints across the country.
Under the new hybrid model, beneficiaries could still opt for other payment methods, including staying with their existing commercial banks.
Talks were ongoing with the South African Reserve Bank and commercial banks for the establishment of a low-cost account for those who wanted to use commercial banks.
The Constitutional Court has yet to give a date for when it will make its ruling.