* Concerns over grant payments system mount
* Around one third of South Africans depend on system
* Zuma says there is no crisis, top court says there is one
(Adds Net1 comments, Friday court ruling)
By Wendell Roelf
CAPE TOWN, March 16 South African President
Jacob Zuma said on Thursday there was no "crisis" as doubts
mounted over the payment of welfare benefits to 17 million
people because of a court battle involving the service-provider.
The welfare system is a lifeline for South Africa's most
vulnerable and includes more than 11 million child support
grants. Each month long queues form at pay points as people wait
for money needed to feed their families.
Zuma told parliament his government was "doing everything
possible" to ensure welfare payments are distributed.
"There is no crisis," Zuma said in response to a question
from the opposition in parliament.
The chaos in South Africa's social security agency comes
three years after the Constitutional Court ruled that the tender
won by Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), a unit of technology
company Net1, was illegal. The government had until
April 1 of this year to take responsibility for social service
payments or find a new provider, but failed to do so.
The country's top court is now hearing a case brought by
applicants who want it to take oversight of a new contract. The
Constitutional Court said it would rule on Friday.
Earlier this week the country's chief justice placed the
blame for the debacle squarely on the shoulders of Social
Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, calling her inaction
Zuma, however, defended his minister and rebuffed opposition
calls for her removal.
"Why punish somebody before anything happens? That's a funny
democracy," Zuma said.
The chief executive of CPS has said a resolution is needed
urgently if April's payments are to be made on time.
Officials at the South African Social Security Agency
(SASSA) have said privately the agency has opted to negotiate a
new deal with CPS despite the 2014 court order. There has been
no public confirmation.
A cabinet minister on Thursday said any negotiations for a
new deal between SASSA and CPS were void.
Net1 said on Thursday: "Notwithstanding the uncertainty
regarding its arrangements with SASSA, CPS has not in any way
reduced or downgraded its operational capabilities to deliver
(Additional reporting and writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by
James Macharia and)