Cape Town -
An elderly couple who wanted to make sure their old-age grant was in order hobbled to the facility in Wynberg where they spent the night.
Elizabeth Francis, 65, and David Martin, 68, were the first two in the queue at the William Herbert sports complex in Wynberg on Monday.
On Sunday afternoon the two had walked for about two kilometres – aided by sticks – from their home in Ottery to the complex. They arrived outside the gate in Wynberg at 5pm.
They sat on blankets in Rosmead Avenue until 9pm, when the facility manager Andrew Julies allowed them inside, fearing for their safety.
“We didn’t sleep at all. We kept looking out for skollies in the road. But we were fine,” said Francis.
Several hours later they heard that the much maligned old-age grant review process has been scrapped – for now.
Dr Waldemar Terblanche, SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) regional manager, said it was decided at the weekend to suspend the process until the financial year end on March 31.
This was a blow to Francis and Martin, who had spent 15 hours in line. “This whole thing just made us sick. I don’t want to see or hear from Sassa for a while now,” said Francis.
Terblanche said the re-registration process – which applied to all pensioners – had been completed. The review process was needed to assess yearly whether those who received added income still qualified for the grant, and for the same amount.
As of June, there were 262 218 grant recipients in the Western Cape.
Thousands of people across the city received letters saying that they had three months to appear for review, or their pensions would be suspended.
“There was a lot of confusion with the reviews and re-registration. This resulted in high volumes of people turning up, and it was more than we could manage with our resources,” said Terblanche.
He says the review policy will be reworked at a national level, and amendments made to make the system more manageable.
On Sunday afternoon, staff were sent text messages saying that the process had been suspended. But the message had not been communicated to everyone – including pensioners – in time.
On Monday the Cape Argus joined pensioners queuing. By 4am, the hall held about 200 people, with seating for only 120. At 5am, the queue snaked outside the building. At 6.30am, the head count was 475. People stood in the sun, many without water or food. Confusion reigned about how many people would be seen, and how many would have to come back again.
Somaya Jacobs, 64, and her husband Abubaker, 65, said it was their third attempt at getting reviewed, and complained that they had been sent from pillar to post – a sentiment echoed by many of the pensioners. The couple arrived just before midnight to secure third and fourth place in the queue.
Social Development MEC Albert Fritz visited the Elsies River centre and found similar scenes of hundreds of people standing in queues. They too had camped out from the night before.
“It’s unacceptable that this is how our old people are treated. It indicates complete incompetence. Sassa needs to come up with a better system,” said Fritz.