Shack fire victims waiting for relief

A man re-building his shack after it was destroyed by fire in Blowey Informal settlement. Photo by Okuhle Jafta

A group of about 30 residents from Blowey informal settlement in Makhaza, recently protested outside the Khayelithsa SASSA offices demanding relief in cash instead of the food vouchers they have received.

When a fire tore through Blowey informal settlement, Khayelitsha, in October last year, it left the occupants of over 300 homes destitute. They were assured of relief and the Department of Home Affairs offered to fast-track the replacement of lost documents. To date, they have not received relief funds and their identity documents that were destroyed in the fire have not been replaced.

A group of people, mostly women from the informal settlement protested outside the Social Development office in Khayelitsha, four months after their homes were destroyed. “We signed forms earlier in February that we were going to receive a relief fund of R1,690 but we are told that we will be receiving food vouchers in two tranches instead. Each food voucher is worth R750,” said one of the protestors who wanted to remain anonymous.

Police arrived after things got heated when the protestors barred the exit of the office and insisted on speaking to the management of Social Development. The police failed to remove them, but to defuse the situation, the assistant manager agreed to meet with community representatives.

According to one of the protest leaders, Ntsikelelo Nketle, they told the assistant manager that they want the relief of R1,690 to be paid, in cash and not substituted with food vouchers.

“The protesters refused to sign the form because they believed the officials are contradicting what is written in the forms,” said Nketle.

One of the officials explained to the crowd that the relief forms were old and were supposed to be modified because the fund had been changed to disburse food vouchers. The official, according to Nketle, told protesters that those who do not want to sign the forms would have to wait for many years to get their relief payment in cash as the waiting list is long.

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However, an email statement by the provincial Department of Social Development says that the matter was resolved and that the victims would received food vouchers.

“The Western Cape Department of Social Development was responsible for finalising the SRD (Social Relief of Distress) SASSA application forms, which it completed. The value of the food vouchers was stipulated (R1,690) on the SASSA forms. The SASSA managers stated that the cost of the food vouchers was stipulated on the form and the amount was not promised in cash. The protestors indicated within the meeting that they would prefer cash in future. The  meeting and strike were then peacefully adjourned. SASSA will be engaging with their Head Office to replace the food parcels with cash in future,” reads the statement.

According to Ward 93 councillor, Thando Pimpi, an agreement was reached with SASSA officials last year that the funds would be paid through the Post Office. However, Pimpi admitted that he did not follow up with the department after that.

On the issue of identity documents destroyed in the fire, he blamed the victims for submitting names of people who were not there during the fire, causing the verification to be delayed. “I have re-submitted the list and we hope things will go smoothly,” he said.

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