It is 7pm on a Monday night in crime-plagued Lower Crossroads and scores of people, some wrapped in blankets, others with mattresses, are getting ready to spend the night outside a state welfare office, hoping to be helped in the morning.
Those huddling outside the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) office at the premises of the Beautiful Gate non-profit organisation are either trying to get paid or are applying for social-security services, including child-support grants and the R350 unemployment-relief grants, but they say they must camp overnight if they are to have any chance of being helped because the office is swamped by hundreds of people and the staff can’t help them all, especially during extended bouts of load shedding.
An elderly, asthmatic woman sitting at the edge of the gate said she had already camped outside for two nights, hoping, in vain, to get assistance. Monday was her third time.
Asked why she chose to sleep outside the office instead of making an appointment, she said, “It is not as easy as you might think. There’s little help from the staff here. They only take about 50 a day – that’s if there is no four-hour load shedding. It is tough out here, and we all need assistance and to get money.
“Young people come earlier than us because they can still run and do a lot of things. I am old to come here and not get help and have to come back again.”
However, even sleeping over was not guarantee of being helped, she said.
“There is always a high chance that you won’t be helped for some reasons unknown to me. But I have seen people being turned back either because they do not have necessary documents or something. I do not know. Sometimes we turn back because it is time to close the office. But we come again because we are desperate for money.”
Another woman complained that there appeared to be no system at the office to sort applicants from beneficiaries. Such a system would help to speed things up, she said.
“People from Lower Crossroads come on Mondays. On Tuesdays is Crossroads and Wednesdays is Philippi, but still they cannot do a proper job.
“I joined the queue as early as 6 pm the previous day because I wanted to be among the first people. There are those who come as early as 4pm. It is impossible to come on a normal day and expect to get assisted. But I think if they can separate as to who goes where, they can win this battle.”
Among those waiting was a young man who said he feared that life was only going to get harder as winter set in, bringing with it the cold and a greater chance of being robbed in the longer hours of darkness.
“People in Cape Town are not safe in winter. You always hear cries. I am worried because people will be robbed. There is also the rain and cold coming.”
Sassa spokeswoman Shivani Wahab said the agency’s clients should never have to resort to sleep-overs to be helped, and the agency had reiterated the hazards of that practice. An appointment system was used to avoid long queues, she said.
The Beautiful Gate site had opened in March last year, she said, to take some of the pressure off Sassa’s Gugulethu office, which had seen a high demand for services.
“The site is operational, like all other Sassa offices, from Monday to Friday, daily, and is an extension of services to cater for the high demand in the community. The areas serviced by the site are Lower Crossroads, Crossroads, Philippi and Nyanga as most of the clients come from these areas.”
Clients had the option to visit a Sassa office most convenient to them or use the online application system that the agency had introduced during pandemic, she said.
For more information, log on to https://www.sassa.gov.za or call the toll-free number 0800 60 10 11 or the Western Cape office at 021 469 0235.
• Meanwhile the validity of expired Sassa gold cards have been extended to December 31 2023.