Cape Town - The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) has come under fire for the anguish it causes thousands of social grant applicants who queue from the early hours of the day and at times sleep on pavements in the hope of being assisted.
Applicants camping outside Sassa offices in Bellville, Athlone and Mitchell’s Plain have for months complained about poor service at these branches.
Branches open at 7.30am but many applicants, the majority of them elderly people, often queue from 4am and even the previous night out of desperation to be helped.
In the Bellville queue, Ravensmead resident Elizabeth Visagie said she dressed warmly, packed herself a blanket, a chair and food and slept outside Sassa offices on Sunday to be first in the queue on Monday.
By 8am there were about 200 people in the queue behind her and she still waited to be assisted.
Dinah Loff, 60, from Bellville said: “We have to come the day before so we can get helped. You can sit here the entire day waiting. When the time reaches 3pm, they turn you away without even helping you. You come sit here six times before you get any assistance.”
Some grant applicants have also raised concern about Sassa’s processes and complained that after being attended to they were continually told to return.
Pensioner Ralph Goliath said that for six months he had to travel back and forth to the Sassa branch in Mitchells Plain.
“I’ve been waiting in line for my confirmation letter since 4am. I came early because I’m afraid of the queues. You don’t have a choice otherwise you’ll stand in the queue until late in the day. They have a very bad system, and honestly it is recently that this system has been failing people,” he said.
At the Athlone branch, applicants have resorted to paying homeless people to take up places for them in the queue by sleeping in front of Sassa’s offices. Allen Miller, who came from Manenberg, said it was dangerous to travel so early.
“I’ve been here since 4.30am, this is my fourth time here. It’s dangerous in the mornings to get here, so we have to risk our lives to get here and then you must sit like this. They want you to give up. People get fed up from coming here,” he said.
Nkululeko Majozi, social security researcher for the Studies in Poverty and Equality Institute, has called it a human rights violation.
“It is a human rights violation because our constitution guarantees the right to dignity and it also obliges our government to ensure the progressive access to socio-economic rights to our people.
“If people have to sleep on the streets, to risk being victims of crime, having to leave their children at home at night to access Sassa services, it can never be justified and it is tantamount to a human rights violation,” said Majozi.
Sassa provincial spokesperson Shivani Wahab said: “Sassa implemented the queue management and appointment system to mitigate the challenge of clients sleeping over at any contact point for assistance.
“The issue of sleepovers at Sassa contact points is a broader societal issue and law enforcement was also requested to further advise clients on the danger of sleepovers.”
The Black Sash criticised Sassa’s approach as being undignified. The organisation’s Esley Philander said it was gravely concerned about the long queues that grant applicants were subjected to.
“Not only is this an undignified experience for those having to wait for hours in queues or who must sleep overnight outside Sassa offices, it is especially dangerous during a pandemic,” Philander said.
Pay the Grants, and NG, has also denounced the bad service.
“We and Sassa both know it does not have the funds, the staff, or infrastructure to genuinely resolve these injustices. So it is left to repeatedly blame ‘oversights’ to avoid naming the cause – ‘austerity’,” the organisation’s spokesperson Nathan Taylor said.