Residents stand for hours in queues, putting their lives at risk for R350
By Thulasizwe Nkomo
Long queues of people have been queuing at South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) offices and paypoints across the country.
Apart from beneficiaries queuing for grant payments including the R350 social relief of distress grant, long queues were due to people waiting to apply for temporary disability grants. The grants lapsed on December 31 and Sassa urged applicants to visit their offices to reapply for the grants with a medical assessment.
Many Sassa offices, particularly in the Western Cape, have had long queues and reports of recipients sleeping outside.
However, Sassa KZN spokesperson Sandy Godlwana said while they were queues, they only had a problem at the Raisethorpe office in Pietermaritzburg.
She said what contributed to the long queues were beneficiaries of the permanent disability grants who also came to the offices, despite only recipients of temporary disability grants being asked to reapply.
"In KZN I received a single complaint (from Raisethorpe) and I met with the senior officials where we discussed that no client should be sent home without receiving a service," said Godlwana.
She said the offices serviced 80 people a day since their staff was working at a 50% capacity due to Covid-19 restrictions.
"After we had problems in Raisethorpe, we discussed a solution where we decided that even though we take 80 clients per day, we should take details of those who were outside the 80 and phone them to arrange when they can come in and get help.
"This is the strategy that has helped us here in KZN," she said.
Human rights activist group the Black Sash urged the Department of Social Development and Sassa to reinstate and extend the temporary disability grants which lapsed by December 31, continuing them for three months until March 2021.
Black Sash national director Lynette Maart said even though Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu had “indicated that temporary disability grant recipients need to reapply, Sassa failed to communicate a clear procedure for how the medical assessments backlog will be dealt with and recipients who are desperately trying to comply with the disability grant application process are now subject to long congested queues outside Sassa offices, potentially exposing them to Covid-19”.
She called on all Sassa offices to dedicate at least two days in the week for the intake of disability grant applications, while enforcing all health and safety protocols.
“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 and establish a task team comprising government and civil society representatives to assist with resolving this crisis,“ Maart urged.
Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity programme co-ordinator Mervyn Abrahams said this was an issue of human dignity in which the right of people receiving their grants in an effective way was not being respected.
He said the depth of poverty and desperation was real in communities.
“In Durban a basket of basic food for a household of seven in the month of December was R4 046.17, an increase of 3.5% over the three months leading up to December.
“That shows the level of the debt of poverty and that people cannot afford what they need, and people who do not have income are desperate, and what we are seeing at Sassa points is a sign of that desperation,” said Abrahams.