SASSA admits it was not prepared for Covid-19 grant

Long queues outside Sassa offices in Khayelitsha on Monday. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Hunger and a social security agency that is unprepared for the disbursement of the Covid-19 relief grant is what is causing the long queues.

Elitsha has been reporting on the growing length of queues outside Sassa offices in Khayelitsha and at the mall amid the growing number of infections in the Western Cape’s biggest township. Many of those who were interviewed said that they had arrived as early as 03h00 in the morning to beat the snaking queues. On Sunday, social media was abuzz after a picture of disability grant applicants sleeping outside the Khayelitsha offices.

The South African Social Security Agency in the Western Cape says that the influx of grant applicants and beneficiaries to local offices was due to the lack of information on the government Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant and the process to apply for it.

Sassa’s regional spokesperson, Shivani Wahab, said that while they have been inundated with calls around the application process for the relief package, they have still to finalise the development and testing of the required technology. “The SRD Covid-19 social grant that was introduced as part of government’s Social Relief Package during the pandemic, is now ready for implementation. The application process for this is fully automated and will not entail clients accessing a Sassa office personally,” she said.

According to Wahab, the agency will deploy volunteers to assist with applications in communities for those who do not have access to technology.

Sleeping outside the Sassa office

40-year-old Fanisile Ngcuwa from Ndlovini was at the end of the almost kilometre-long queue. “I was working at one of the seafood restaurants, responsible for washing dishes. I have not been gainfully employed since 2010. I have been getting jobs at barbershops in the township but because of the lockdown and most of the barbershops being run by foreigners, I have not been able to support myself,” he said.

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“They are allowed and able to help only 60 applicants and some official told us that they only help with the children born this year for the child grant. I’m not sure what they want us to do. This system of theirs is causing problems. We arrived around 04h00 this morning but we are turned away now,” said Simphiwe Mhletywa.

Sassa offices are working with limited staff and this is causing major backlogs. “In line with the directive by the President, with the easing of Lockdown Regulations to Level 4, a phased-in approach was adopted and staff are currently working on a rotational basis,” said Wahab.

First-time mother, Abongile Cezula, said that she wanted to apply for a child support for her two-month-old baby. “I want to apply for a child grant as I do not have any other source of income because of lockdown. I normally sell leggings and tights (yoga pants) for a living since I have been unemployed for 3 years now,” said the 30-year-old.

No relief til tomorrow

“Clients who slept over outside the Khayelitsha local office were all assisted and provided with appointments for Friday, 15 May 2020. These clients were advised on the perils of sleeping over at any contact point for services,” said Wahab.

To avoid a high influx of applicants, Sassa has staggered the days for payment of grants. “Services at local office level will now be rendered as follows; Monday and Tuesday – Old Age Grant applications, Tuesday and Wednesday – Child Support Grant applications, Friday – Disability Grant applications on an appointment basis,” Wahab said.

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The first payment of the Covid-19 SRD grant of R350, Sassa says, will be made on Friday.

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