Concerns about crowding outside Sassa offices

Community leaders and grant recipients raised with Vukani their concerns about conditions at the local Sassa offices were crowds of people queue for long hours in the heat, and with little adherence to physical distancing.

Desperate residents of Gugulethu and surrounds vented their frustration at having to stand in long queues for hours in the heat, at the local South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) office to access their grants, including the R350 special Covid-19 relief grant while others are in line to apply for social grants

On Tuesday January 12, angry residents called Vukani to come see what they were going through. When Vukani arrived just after midday a group of residents were still standing in long queues at the offices with no hope that they would all be served.

Some people told Vukani that they had stood in line for several days without being assisted.

Apostle John Sawutana said his main concern was the possible transmission of Covid-19 as many people stood close together for long periods of time.

“As you see, there is no compliance at all. People are standing in long queues and it is hot. Surely one gets tired of masks in this heat. Not only that, there is zilch social distance. Our people are exposed to death. The government can not say this and fail to serve people right. This is a trap for them to have coronavirus,” he said.

He suggested that the government review how payments are made and raised his concerns for the well-being of staff at the Sassa offices.

“This is ridiculous. In churches the government has said we should be 50 but their institutions are rotten. There should be some review on how people are paid.

“The system is failing people that is why you get such queues. I can imagine those who work here. We will blame them but the person to blame is the government’s system. The system is really failing us,” he said.

Nontombi Mapukata said she had been in the queue from 6am but nothing had been done to help her. Ms Mapukata was at the office to apply for her child’s social grant.

“Some have been coming here not once but many times without help. This is my second day but I have heard stories of this place,” she said.

Asked about the risk of being there, she said: “There is really a high risk of getting any diseases here, not only coronavirus. You can get tuberculosis or any other disease. But currently we all fear Covid-19 so this is the only thing we think about.

“I am also scared but what else can I do. Yes my life is at danger and at stake but this is how poor people have to endure in this country, ” she told Vukani.

Other residents pointed out that many of them were unemployed and could not afford to travel to Gugulethu every day to queue at the office.

Mpumelelo Nobethe said he spends more than R100 a day for transport and food. “I take two taxis to reach here. Remember I must eat and go back home again. There will always be a lot of people here for as long as so many people are not receiving their monies on time. Many of us are financially suffering,” he said.

Western Cape Sassa spokesperson Shivani Wahab confirmed that for the Western Cape, there are currently a total of 53 000 lapsed disability grants. This high number of lapsed disability grants, many of them temporary grants, she said, had caused an influx of clients at all Sassa offices.

She said technically, they had lapsed last year in February. Ms Wahab said, however, the cabinet made a decision to extend payment of these social grants till December, as a measure to cushion clients against the economic hardship of the national lockdown in 2020. She said the cost of extending these grants last year totalled more than R1.5 billion.

“Disability grants are awarded in two categories. A permanent disability grant is awarded for medical conditions which impact negatively on the applicant’s ability to work, for a period longer than 12 months.

“Then there’s temporary disability grants. These social grants are awarded where the applicant’s medical condition is likely to improve. The social grant is awarded for a period of six to 12 months. Once this social grant lapses, the applicant will have to re-apply, provided that he or she is still unemployed as a result of their medical condition,” she said.

She added that all disability grant applications were dependent on a medical assessment.

Ms Wahab said all clients whose disability grants lapsed in December last year had been informed by Sassa that they would have to access the nearest Sassa contact point, along with a detailed doctor’s report, should they have to re-apply. She said to mitigate this, Sassa will provide every applicant with an appointment to finalise their application.

“Sassa has deployed volunteers to assist with queue management at all contact points, and to further assist with setting up of these appointments for clients.

“Applicants who are in undue hardship, who are not receiving any other form of income, upon application, will be provided with Social Relief of Distress. This is an interim measure, which is the cash equivalent of the disability grant, that will be paid directly to the applicant, provided that they meet the criteria for Social Relief of Distress. This will be provided for a period of one month only,” said Ms Wahab.

She added that management of Sassa’s Gugulethu office had worked with the SAPS to to manage the crowds.

Scores of people braved the heat and long queues at the Gugulethu Sassa offices to reapply for lapsed social grants.