Sassa and DSD’s ineptness hurts the poor

Pictured is a SASSA debit card. Picture: David Ritchie

Pictured is a SASSA debit card. Picture: David Ritchie

Published Sep 5, 2022


Johannesburg - A government organisation meant to help struggling South Africans is, in effect, compounding their problems.

Since the establishment of the Covid-19 social distress grant of R350 in 2019, South Africans have complained that Sassa’s standards have dropped badly to the point of dissuading residents from applying for financial assistance.

When announced, Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu said that Sassa was prepared to deal with the expected influx of applications and ensured a timely payout of grants. The header of the agency’s website even has a motto that said, “Paying the right social grant, to the right person, at the right time and place, Njalo!”

An exasperated Cornelia de Bruin from the East Rand said that her experience with Sassa at its branch in Germiston throughout the year had left her reeling.

“My sister and I applied for Sassa because we are the main breadwinners in my family. We collect bags of recycling items in our area and get money for them at a nearby depot. It is not a consistent job because, between the two of us, we are lucky to get R300 for the bags,” she said.

De Bruin said that before the lockdown was lifted, both sisters received their R350 promptly, but after the Department of Social Development (DSD) increased the threshold in April, the problems began.

“When we first applied we were approved, but when the payday arrived on May 1st, we didn’t get anything. We’re past July and I’m still waiting for my payments from April, May and June. Now every time we have to hear their petty excuses for not giving us the grant and I am sick and tired of this nonsense.

“I don’t have the money to keep buying airtime and data to reapply or constantly check if they’ve resolved the issue. It’s very unfair what the Sassa officials are doing to us. Why do we have to fight so hard to get a meagre R350?” De Bruin said.

Another disgruntled South African, Veli Zulu, has been in a tiresome battle to receive his money because of a digital issue. Through third-party assistance, Zulu tried to change an old cellphone number to receive the R350.

He said that every Sassa employee he encountered gave him the same instructions to send his details to Sassa’s SMS line for a one-time PIN to change his details, but he has no internet access or data to do so. When calls were made to Sassa’s toll-free customer care line, an automated voice replied that the queue was full of queries and ended the call.

Black Sash’s KwaZulu-Natal regional manager Evashnee Naidu said that Sassa’s inability to be proactive in assisting South Africans is a sign of the government’s short-sightedness on the matter of digitising the grant application process.

Naidu said that when considering the targeted groups for the social grants (the elderly and unemployed) the process eliminates applicants because of factors such as access to smart devices and digital literacy.

“This means you need to have a smartphone or device that has internet access that’ll get you online to apply for this grant. The entire questionnaire is in English, which is an assumption about language and the literacy of the poor applying,” Naidu said.

Naidu explained that the DSD’s use of outdated information from third-party organisations assisting Sassa, and the government’s reluctance to update information on their beneficiaries, contributed to the consequences that residents face over the decisions made by Sassa directors.

The tedious, invasive application process and the government’s stagnated efforts to resolve the issues presented had turned South Africans away from the social distress grant queues. Added to that were Sassa’s revised regulations which included self-exclusion.

“If your grandfather or someone in your family gave you R350, this would mean that you no longer need the grant to survive for that month and be automatically excluded.”

Black Sash’s research visits in June 2022 to various branches countrywide revealed beneficiaries found themselves in long waiting queues with no clean drinking water or clean ablution facilities. They also dealt with self-appointed intimidating “queue managers” who were rude to applicants, making the wait on payday difficult. An absolute nightmare as described by Naidu.

“Beneficiaries are paid late because of cash delays or not enough cash is delivered at SAPO branches, meaning grant recipients must return the following day. Many have not had anything to eat when they start to queue for their grant money. Some of the beneficiaries may not have eaten for a day or more because they have run out of money,” she said.

Sassa did not respond to the queries sent by “The Sunday Independent”.