Belville Police action was painful to watch, Social Development Minister admits
Cape Town - Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu has admitted she watched as the police used water cannons on the elderly and people with disabilities outside the Sassa offices in Bellville on Friday.
It was “painful” to watch but the police had no other choice, said Zulu, who has come under fire for the “mishandling” of temporary disability grants which were stopped at the end of December.
The DA wants the social development minister held accountable in Parliament for the Sassa grant debacle as people queued and spent the night outside government buildings this week.
The party has written to Mondli Gungubele, chairperson of the portfolio committee of social development to request Zulu’s appearance before Parliament. Hundreds of people queued at the Bellville offices on Friday, mostly to reapply for temporary disability grants, and Zulu said there was no social distancing.
“I was in a meeting upstairs when I looked and saw that police were using the water cannons. It’s painful to see that happening, but on the other hand, we also have to be realistic. We have to be realistic because I was physically there myself, I could see the danger of people infecting each other by refusing, literally refusing, to open up the space and refusing to keep a distance (from one another).”
Zulu said she got into a police Casspir and tried to speak to the crowd. “I used the loud hailer. But people were not moving.” She said she’s aware of the criticism of the crowd control measures that were used. “I don’t want to get into the debate as to why the police did that because, quite frankly, the police are the ones that will do an analysis of a situation and will react according to the way they deem fit.
“Under normal circumstances where we didn’t have Covid, where we didn’t have the fears, I don’t think the police would have gone as far as spraying anybody with water. It’s easier for people who are sitting somewhere to criticise ... I wonder if those people would have agreed to be in the middle of that themselves. We were in the middle of that and were trying to help in a dire situation.”
At the same time, Zulu has cautioned there would be no extension to the payouts of either the temporary disability grant or the Covid-19 Relief Grant which comes to an end on January 31.
Zulu said: “If the money is there, it would be the easiest thing to do. When all is said and done, we do need to respond to the needs of our people; however, the needs of our people do not end with what I need and the people that I’m servicing need under Sassa. Health also has needs, education also has needs and everybody else needs (in government departments).”
The activist group Black Sash condemned the police’s action and said in a statement: “The (Department of Social Development) DSD, Sassa and the police should publicly apologise to all those whose rights and dignity were violated.”
The group added: “The police deploying the use of force in the presence of the minister of social development is a clear indication that the minister and Sassa has lost control of the current situation, as more and more people make their way to Sassa offices. This was entirely predictable, given Sassa’s severe capacity constraints and the premature decision to allow temporary disability grants to lapse.”
Meanwhile, Black Sash director Lynette Maart said temporary disability grants had been bungled by bureaucracy for a while now.
“In July, Sassa appointed 475 contracted medical officers to make assessments, but even then they dropped the assessments of disability grants per day from 40 to 20,” she said.
The group has called on the government to “reinstate and extend the temporary disability grants that lapsed on December 31, 2020 for three months, until March 2021”.
Meanwhile, experts have warned that there was an economic crisis on the horizon when the R350 Covid-19 Relief Grant ends.
Researcher at the Development Policy Research Unit at the School of Economics at UCT, Tim Kohler, said millions of people would be left vulnerable.
He said: “One advantage of the Covid grant is that it had this huge effect of bringing 6 million people into the system that were previously unreached, and for a large number of them this was the first source of income for them ever in their lives. It was a really important source of targeted relief for people in poor households, including those in the informal sector.”
He added that next month, these grant recipients would once again be left out in the cold. “One in every 10 South Africans will experience an adverse shock to their income, or a reduction ... this income shock to the economy is regressive.”
Associate Professor in the Department of Mercantile and Labour Law at UWC, Kitty Malherbe agreed and points out that for unemployed men, this is a lifeline because there are no other Sassa grants available to them. “There are many more men who have been receiving this SRD (Social Relief of Distress) grant ... but unfortunately, women were hardest hit in losing their income and this problem will carry on. The state didn’t have a choice in introducing this,” said Malherbe.
Minister Zulu has confirmed that while she was in Cape Town, she met the chief executive of Sassa and discussed other relief measures for people which include the distribution of food parcels to those whose grants have come to an end.