Sassa contact points turning to Covid-19 super-spreaders
Cape Town - Police and other law enforcement agencies had to be called to assist with crowd management outside the Gugulethu and Eersterivier Sassa offices after chaos broke out.
Some beneficiaries including the elderly had been sleeping outside the Gugulethu office in hopes of being assisted first.
But tension reached a boiling point, with fears that the Sassa points were turning to Covid-19 super-spreaders following the disturbing scenes of long queues with no physical distancing.
Hundreds of desperate people, some in wheelchairs, waited in the scorching sun on Wednesday, hoping to reapply after their grants were brought to a halt last month.
A total of 53 000 disability grants lapsed this month.
The Bellville office was reopened on Wednesday after being closed due to a positive case of Covid-19.
For other beneficiaries, on Wednesday was the second day standing in the queues as they slept on the pavements on Tuesday night.
Beneficiary Zimasa Quku, 62, said: “The issue is that they have a limited staff of maybe five to service close to a thousand people. To make things worse this limited staff start operating at 9am sometimes. They are careless.”
Human rights activist group Black Sash said the Department of Social Development had a constitutional obligation in terms of the right to social security, to ensure that measures were in place for those entitled to a disability grant, without being hampered by administrative challenges during this health and humanitarian crisis.
“Minister (Lindiwe) Zulu must reinstate and extend the temporary disability grants. To expedite the system for medical assessments for disability grants per month and clearly communicate this process to applicants; ensure that those awaiting a response to their applications from Sassa must benefit from the general Social Relief of Distress provisions; establish a task team of government and civil society representatives to assist Sassa with resolving this crisis.”
The province’s Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez said the Western Cape had the highest number of affected beneficiaries.
Sassa spokesperson Shivani Wahab said: “All clients whose disability grants, lapsed in December 2020, were informed by Sassa that they would have to access the nearest Sassa contact point, along with a detailed doctor’s report, should they have to re-apply. Sassa will provide every applicant with an appointment to finalise their application.
“Sassa has deployed volunteers to assist with queue management at all contact points, and to further assist with setting up of these appointments for clients.”
Wahab said applicants who were in undue hardship, who were not receiving any other form of income, upon application, would be provided with Social Relief of Distress.
“This is an interim measure, which is the cash equivalent of the disability grant, that will be paid directly to the applicant, provided that they meet the criteria for Social Relief of Distress. This will be provided for one month only.
“For Sassa to have continued with these payments, until the end of the financial year, would have cost an additional R1.2 billion. At this point, funds are not available for the indefinite extension of temporary disability grants. The inconvenience caused by the suspension of these grants is acknowledged, however it is informed by compliance to legislation and cost implications,” she said.