Despite claims by SASSA that it has dealt with the influx of grant applicants at its Khayelitsha office, those seeking help continue to sleep outside the building hoping not to be turned away the next day.
Faniswa Mamkeli has been coming to the Sassa offices in Khayelitsha since March to submit her Disability Grant application and has yet to receive help as Sassa services worsen under COVID-19 conditions and the lockdown.
Mamkeli, who is one of the grant applicants who slept outside Sassa’s offices on Sunday night, said that she was admitted to hospital in December last year for an arthritis operation that kept her bedridden until early February and resulted in her not being able to go back to work. “I received my documents from the doctor when I got discharged and submitted them to Sassa. I have been coming here since March, standing in long queues, sleeping at the gate, but they just take whatever number they want and the rest of us are told to come back tomorrow,” she said.
Mamkeli says that services are worsening, with the opening times of the office unreliable. Changes are made everyday to the number of people they will assist in a day offices and to the days when they will see which grant applicants, she says. “There are no appointments here; the Sassa staff call people they know to the front of the line while we’re watching; they call them by name and don’t even reach the number 60 that they say they’ll take. They open at whatever time they like; it can be 7, 8 or even 9,” Mamkeli said. She suspects corruption contributes significantly to the problem.
Mamkeli, with a blanket wrapped around her legs as she prepared to spend her 3rd night sleeping outside the Sassa offices, said that she is hopeful that she will get help. “Right now, I’m number 13 in the queue so I should be going in tomorrow, but it could happen that I don’t get in,” she said.
Sindiswa Mqokeli, who is a diabetic and suffers from asthma, was also not sleeping outside the Sassa offices for the first time and spoke painfully of her experience with staff members when seeking assistance to collect her disability grant. “The coronavirus has played a part in slowing down services but there is a big issue of laziness here. They don’t want to meet us halfway. On the 11th they said they are taking 60 people but when we counted, they only took 30, 10 from the elderly, 10 from disability and 10 from the child support people – where is the other 30 coming from? You have to beg them to let you in.”
Mqokeli says that the government should rather go back to the ‘hall system’ which allowed people to fetch their grant from community halls instead of having to come to the Sassa offices. “All these policemen and soldiers should have been used to protect the money that the government said is being stolen through the hall system of collecting grants instead of us having to come and sleep here while we are sick,” she said.
Asanda Masa was amongst those in the queue for child support grant applications but says she was turned away last week because her child was not born in 2020: “They said that because my child is seven years old and I didn’t apply for a grant all this time, then I cannot apply now. They don’t want to listen when I tell them that I didn’t apply for a grant earlier because I was working and now that I lost my job, I need the grant for my child and because of this coronavirus, they say the government only made additional funds available for children born this year.”
While Elitsha spoke to people, a taxi driver parked his taxi near to where the group was preparing to sleep and began announcing that people could sleep inside his taxi for the night for R20 – further demonstrating the ways in which the vulnerability and desperation of these people is exploited when forced into situations like these.
Shivani Wahab, the Western Cape spokesperson for Sassa, confirmed that they reopened on 11 May after being closed during the initial lockdown with grant payment days separating the old age applicants from the child support and disability applicants: “The introduction of the grant type days at all local offices, nationwide, was to avoid a high influx of clients at any contact point.”
Wahab claimed that the people who had slept over outside the offices were all assisted and provided with appointments for Friday, 15 May. She admitted that local offices were working with limited staff.
The elderly and sick seeking assistance at the Khayelitsha offices will continue to stand in long, winding queues and still receive no help at the end of the day.