President Jacob Zuma says government "deeply regrets" the current situation surrounding the social grants scheme, and is doing everything possible to prevent interruptions to payments.
Zuma told Parliament on Thursday that lessons have been learnt in the ongoing crisis engulfing the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) in its bid to find a service provider in two weeks.
"Government is doing everything possible to ensure that there are no interruptions in the normal process of paying social grants to beneficiaries at the end of this month," he said during a question and answer session.
"The grandmothers and mothers, the children and also the disabled, they will receive their grants at the end of the month.
"Lessons will be learnt from the current unfortunate episode to ensure there is no recurrence."
He said government "deeply regrets" the current situation, and will ensure there is never again any apprehension with regard to the payment of social grants.
"Action against ministers is the prerogative of the president," he concluded.
'You want to divert me'
IFP MP Liesl van der Merwe asked him if "rumours from the ANC caucus" that current grants service provider Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) is paying for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's ANC presidential campaign are true or not.
Zuma said Van der Merwe had a right to free speech in the House, but that her question, based on rumours, was an attempt at distracting him from the issue at hand.
"What we are working on now is that they ensure they are getting their benefits on the 1st [April 1]. You want to divert me," he answered.
"You actually dilute your question. I'm not sure if we are doing a political exercise, or whether you are asking a legitimate question."
'He's your bagman'
DA leader Mmusi Maimane followed up on a question about Zuma's lawyer Michael Hulley, suggesting he has been involved in the CPS negotiations.
"Now if you expect me to answer questions on behalf of other people, simply because I know them, it's irresponsible," Zuma answered.
"I cannot answer the questions about why Mr Hulley was [allegedly] there. I don't discuss things with Mr Hulley and people he can work with.
"Mr Hulley is a lawyer. I don't know under what conditions that would happen."
"He's your bagman," DA MPs shouted out.
"No I'm answering a question that I cannot answer."
He said Michael Hulley runs his own firm, and has other work to do besides working with him.
Govt saves R1bn when people don't steal
Zuma said social grants are one of the best poverty alleviating mechanisms that government has, and are one of South Africa's key achievements.
"Even political parties who have been critical of social grants over the years have now realised the important role of the grants in the fight against poverty."
He said a long-term solution must be in keeping with the ANC's BEE policy going forward, and must ensure that fraud and corruption do not take place in the Sassa system.
Government saves about R1 billion annually in the social grants system through effective anti-fraud measures in the Department of Social Development, he added.