People queued from the break of dawn while others camped overnight at social grant payout points. Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency(ANA)
People queued from the break of dawn while others camped overnight at social grant payout points. Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency(ANA)

Sassa R350 grant recipients risk infection in long queues

By Amanda Maliba Time of article published May 16, 2021

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Johannesburg - A few days following the end of the R350 Covid-19 grant payment, that came into effect in May 2020, provided to indigent individuals by the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) to mitigate the effects of the series of lockdown restrictions on economic activity, Sassa now faces a huge backlash on the lag related to paying delayed funds due to what they label as an “administrative process“.

And while Sassa promises to make these payments soon, thousands of South Africans continue to gather outside various pay-points braving the cold and the potential of being infected with the deadly Covid-19 virus in congested queues.

Just outside the Joburg CBD post office, on the busy streets of Pixley ka Seme Street, hundreds of expectant recipients line up, some arriving as early as 4am and others having slept there to be first in line.

The multitudes, lined up at close proximity to each other, have all come from different parts of Joburg – forsaking their nearest post offices for what they call “efficient service”.

Sizwe Nhlapo, 35, and Tsietsie Mofokeng, 39, both from Orange Farm, left home at 3am Thursday morning to make it in time at that particular post office, due to complaints of slow service at the nearest pay point where they live.

Both gentlemen had been queuing for their March payouts that they didn’t receive.

“As little as R350 is, it made a world of difference in our circumstances.

“Now that it is coming to an end, I really don’t know what is going to happen to me,” said Nhlapho, with Mofokeng adding that the government should consider extending these payments.

“If there were work opportunities, trust me, we would work.

“So we don’t have any work opportunities and now the grant is coming to an end, these are really stressful times for us,” said Mofokeng.

Just a metre away, an overloaded minibus Quantum vehicle, was parked near the Joburg central post office, and is said to have transported people from Tembisa township as early as 4am.

None of them were willing to respond to any questions.

A sickly Clementine Ndlovu from Jeppestown arrived at the same post office at 6am, and although she was under the weather, she still preferred waking up extra early to line up outside the post office in Joburg central.

Ndlovu said her biggest worry is that the grants are coming to an end, as she lives with her daughter and grandchild, with no stable income.

She is here to collect three months of her payments.

“As you can see me standing here, I am scared of dying of hunger more than the coronavirus.

“Life is about to get really hard for us.

“I am really stressed,” she said.

In Protea Glen’s post office, a queue as long as the one outside the Joburg central post office could be seen.

Sifiso Zulu, 37, from Bram Fischerville, Joburg, who is lining up for a two months payout, believes the government should be upskilling citizens and employing them rather than handing out money.

“Yes, I have been receiving the money, but a year later, I think I would have been better off with a skill.

“Now the grant has come to an end, I am back to square one. No job prospects and no grant.

“It is a bleak time in South Africa,” Zulu said.

The DA in the Western Cape has, this week, expressed great dismay at what is seen as a ‘failure’ to pay-out Social Relief Distress Grant as expected, last week Thursday.

The DA also highlights great concern following the slow process of on 30 000 Temporary Disability Grant pay-outs in the Western Cape which took over a year to resolve.

“It appears that the challenges with Sassa are systemic, this in considering the allowance and the will to pay out grants, but that it is not ideally or realistically happening, albeit, a misalignment of implementation of the process, it is a matter for the national corporate structure to rectify,” said Gillion Bosman, the DA’s spokesperson on social development.

Bosman and the Sassa regional office discovered during their meeting that the extent of delays in the Western Cape cannot be quantified, but enquiries on certain cases can be made.

Asked if it is ever possible to extend the R350 Covid-19 grant payment, as proposed by the former public protector Thuli Madonsela, Bosman said technically, the fiscal framework from the national government cannot, with ease, accommodate the continuation of grants as provided, but the economic conditions of residents demand some form of relief.

“If it is the prerogative of the national department to be the safety net for these residents, it must perform on its mandate as it will also rebound the economy as studies show.”

According to Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi, the agency has made pay-outs to about six million beneficiaries per month, since the grant has been in operation, and has about 4 274 281 historic payments still outstanding due to multiple reasons, such as untraceable clients, unverified/missing bank account information, referred cases and reconsiderations.

“All April payments for existing clients have been paid and all new applications received in April will be paid by May 17,” he said.

Letsatsi explained that the delay was not caused by mismanagement of funds, but was due to the necessary financial year reconciliation and roll over of the budget from 2020/2021 to 2021/2022.

“The end of March is the end of the financial year for the government, and Sassa has engaged the (National) Treasury to request a roll-over of last financial year’s funds, so that last year’s outstanding payments can be made in the current new financial year, as a matter of procedure.

“This process’ unforeseen consequences resulted in payment delays for the previous year, but payments for April, which falls in the current financial year have already been made.

“Sassa would like to reassure all deserving applicants of the relief grant who have been affected that payments will be made as soon as the administrative processes have been completed,” said Letsatsi.

Letsatsi said all applications whose applications had been approved, but who are yet to receive their pay-out, will still be paid.

“Those clients who had their Covid-19 grant applications declined for the period between February and April 2021, may appeal by visiting https://srd.sassa.gov.za and following the link for reconsideration.

“The appeal period closes on May 31, 2021.”

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