Home Affairs and SASSA applicants turned away in Khayelitsha

According to the Department of Home Affairs spokesperson they have been constantly reminding people to practice social distancing. Home Affairs simultaneously force clients to disregard the rule as they return to queue day after day to be helped. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Getting any kind of service from a government department is going to be more difficult than usual when the lockdown will leave just skeleton staff in place. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Applicants and clients at the Home Affairs and South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) service offices in Khayelitsha were turned away on Wednesday as staff refused to work without preventative measures being taken against the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Most of the applicants who spoke to Elitsha while queuing (and not observing safe social distancing) before they were addressed by the Office Manager, Santo Mahopeloa, said that they were there to collect their smart IDs.

“I’m disappointed that we are told that they won’t be able to help us today because they do not have masks and it was the same reason that we were given yesterday,” said Sinovuyo Luthinto. Luthinto said that she applied to have the surname of her child changed in November last year but has not received the new birth certificate.

“The manager said that they do not have masks and the staff members are refusing to assist us as they do not have the preventative measures,” said Luthinto. Home Affairs had ordered masks but it can take between one and six weeks to arrive. The manager told them that the masks the staff wore on Monday they got from Khayelitsha District Hospital.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, workers have the right to refuse or stop work where their health and safety is in danger.

“I was here to apply for a smart card ID and I arrived at 06:30. This has been a waste of my time and I also do not understand why the office can’t buy the masks themselves, instead of having to order them through the national government,” said Thandiwe Mafani from Nkanini informal settlement.

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According to the Home Affairs spokesperson, Paseka Mokhethea, they order masks daily but they have become scarce countrywide. This contradicts the one to six-week waiting period that the office manager told the large crowd outside the Khayelitsha offices this morning.

Mokhethea said as part of the lockdown, Home Affairs offices will operate with limited staff members who will only provide essential services.

“Offices will be open but with limited staff for limited essential services and will only offer the following limited services: temporary birth certificates, temporary IDs and Death Certificates,” said Mokhethea.

Residents of Khayelitsha outside SASSA offices on Wednesday. They told Elitsha that they were turned away on Monday because the office could only take in 100 clients. Archive photo by Lilita Gcwabe

Meanwhile at the SASSA offices, clients were turned away because the staff there, just as at Home Affairs, do not have masks. According to Mkhululi Xongo, who was at the offices to submit a letter from his doctor as part of his disability grant application, said he was disappointed with the treatment they received. “They are taking us for fools because the manager said that those who are here to collect their cards can go get them from the Post Office but when some people went to the Post Office they were told that there has been no agreement for people to collect their cards”, said Xongo.

According to Xongo they were told to come back on the 20th of April when the lockdown is over.

According to Shivani Wahab, the Senior Communication Manager of SASSA in the Western Cape, the agency needs to avoid congestion at paypoints. “For the upcoming payment cycle, SASSA is considering staggering payment dates for social grants, purely to avoid congestion at payment points. Please note that SASSA clients have the option of accessing their social grant at a point most convenient to them. Banks, SAPO branches, points of sale at merchants and physical SASSA paypoints,” said Wahab.

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