A new cellphone number may mean trouble: What we just learnt about the R350 Covid-19 grant

Business Insider SA
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu.
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu. (GCIS)
  • Applications for the special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant, worth R350 per month for six months, are now open – though application systems seem to be struggling under the load.
  • A recently changed cellphone number could cause an application to be rejected or held for further verification, the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) says.
  • Recipients will be able to choose to receive cash via the ATMs of any of the big banks, without a bank account.
  • Vouchers to spend directly at stores will not yet be available.
  • Here's everything new we've learnt about the new Covid-19 unemployment grant.
  • For more stories go to

The first R350 special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grants are due to be paid out on 15 May.

The grants, due to run for six months, and so due worth R2,100 each in total, are available to all South Africans over 18 who do not have any other form of income, and do not receive any other form of government support.

Applications formally opened on Monday, 11 May, although the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) said it had already received a quarter of a million applications via email, and nearly 100,000 in an early WhatsApp test.

Up to six million people are expected to be eligible for the cash.

Here's everything new we learnt about the special Covid-19 Sassa grant.

There are more ways to apply – though not all of them are working yet.

Official promotions highlighted three mechanisms to apply:

  • WhatsApp message to 082 046 8553 (no longer the health department WhatsApp line on 060 012 3456, on which initial tests were conducted)
  • Email to, which automatically sends back a form to fill in
  • A USSD code, by dialling *134*7737# from a cellphone

But there are also other platforms – although, like the other announced systems, none appeared to be fully operational on Monday. 

  • Sassa is due to have a special section on its website, at, for applications.
  • Sassa technology provider GovChat said in a statement that applications would be available via Facebook Messenger, but did not provide details.
  • GovChat also said applications would be available via SMS, but likewise did not provide details.

If an application is rejected, it may be due to a recently changed cellphone number.

Fraud checking mechanisms for the payment system include matching the cellphone number provided by an applicant against other government databases.

If an applicant has previously provided one cellphone number to an institution such as the SA Revenue Service or the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and now tries to apply using a different number, "the system will kick you out", Sassa said.

You don't need to provide proof of address, but you must provide an address.

Address details are needed "so that we can get a sense of how many people are applying in one particular homestead because that is going to be critical for us to keep control", said Sassa CEO Busisiwe Memela.

Recipients without bank accounts will have a choice of banks from which to get cash via an ATM.

For those without bank accounts, money will be distributed via the cash-sending functions of the major banks, Sassa confirmed.

Those systems, such as eWallet for First National Bank and CashSend for Absa, require only details sent to a cellphone number to withdraw money, with no card or other identity verification required.

Sassa said recipients will be able to select any of the banks in order to use the ATM closest to them.

There are no store vouchers, for now.

Sassa has big plans to send its beneficiaries store vouchers that can be directly used to buy food instead of cash. Those systems are not yet in place, it said.

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