New R350 unemployment grants will use WhatsApp for registration – and first tests have been completed

  • The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) has already quietly tested registration via WhatsApp for R350-per-month Covid-19 grants due to be paid to millions of unemployed people.
  • Some six million people are expected to qualify for the grants, making for payments of more than R2 billion per month – or R12 billion in total over the half year the special grant is due to run.
  • The WhatsApp system, and an accompanying USSD registration system for those without smartphones, is also due to displace physical food parcels delivered as part of normal relief-of-distress grants.
  • Here’s what we know about the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant system due to start payments in early May.

The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) has already tested a WhatsApp registration process for what is formally known as the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant system.

Now some R2 billion a month may be paid out via simple online channels, for at least six months, in a major shift away from the cash payments, or deposits via traditional bank accounts, that has long bedevilled the already massive Sassa system.

Sassa confirmed its unannounced test of registration via WhatsApp over the weekend after it had already closed. 

The system uses the government’s existing Covid-19 WhatsApp line, on 060 012 3456, which is now formally associated with the national department of health.

To date that platform has been used only to send users information about SARS-CoV-2, how to prevent infection, and where to go if they suspect they have Covid-19.

But now it is due to figure out who is eligible to receive the special unemployment grant, worth R2,100 over six months, and set up the payment mechanism.

The Covid-19 grant is for those who are currently unemployed and who are receiving no other form of assistance.

Sassa has promised to check applicants against government databases, such as those for the Unemployment Insurance Fund, its own list of grant recipients, and those of the SA Revenue Service, to determine who is eligible.

That group is thought to be between six and eight million people.

The first payment is due in early May.

The money is due to be available via a standard bank transfer for those with traditional bank accounts, but Sassa also plans to send mobile money transfers (with cash available at ATMs using only codes sent to a cellphone number) and vouchers redeemable at retailers.

Those retail vouchers are also due to replace Sassa’s standard relief-of-distress food parcels, which to date have been physically delivered to recipients.

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