SASSA beneficiaries defy curfew to get in front of the queue

The long queues outside Sassa offices have become a norm during lockdown. All photos by Lilita Gcwabe

Long snaking queues are still the order of the day at the social security agency, Sassa, after 302 days of lockdown in South Africa.

Sassa beneficiaries in Khayelitsha whose temporary disability grant lapsed in December have been putting themselves at risk of being fined for breaking curfew as they go as early as 01h00 in the morning to make sure that they get attended to by the grant agency. Most of the people who were queuing outside the Khayelitsha office on Friday said they came before 05h00. According to level 3 lockdown regulations the curfew starts at 21h00 and ends at 05h00.

Sandiso Nqono from Makhaza who stood first in the queue said that he came at 01h00 bringing his dogs with him as security. “The disability grant lapsed in December and because I am on chronic medication I need to eat and right now there is no food at home and that is why I am here. I’m hoping to see the doctor today so that my application can be finalised,” he said.

42-year-old mother of three, Thandeka Mpayipheli told Elitsha that she was fined R1,000 for breaking the curfew last week outside the Khayelitsha office. “I came to renew my disability grant as we are struggling to get food at home but the police came and fined a few of us. Those who were able to run away did but because I’m sick I couldn’t. I’m here today for the same thing, ” she said.

Noluthando Heneni said her neighbour dropped her off at the Sassa offices at 02h15. The 59-year-old said that she and her husband support their 3 children who are unemployed.

Throughout the lockdown, Elitsha observed the many disability grant beneficiaries sleeping outside Sassa offices and the snaking queues of clients, who at the tail of the line will be told to come again tomorrow.

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During the Parliamentary Committee on Social Development briefing on Wednesday, Sassa told the members of parliament that it has no money to extend the temporary disability grant. Sassa’s executive manager for grant administration, Diane Dunkerley, said the extension of the temporary disability grants to 214,473 beneficiaries for the remainder of the year would cost approximately R1.2-billion whilst the only possible budget available is R411-million, an amount based on an assumed 80% return of lapsed temporary disability grant.

The grant agency said that it will have to reinstate the temporary disbaility grant to the most vulnerable categories of clients, including those who are 59 years old, who require full-time care, those with special needs and those that receive the grant through an administrator.

Sassa said that a limited social relief of distress grant of R500 for two months will be provided for temporary disability grant applicants, whether they are still waiting for an assessment or their applications have been approved.

Sassa official handing out appointment letters for the next day.

During the meeting, the members of parliament heard that one of the challenges in the Western Cape that led to backlogs in the province is that Sassa can no longer access community halls that it used as service points before.

Sassa’s regional executive manager, Bongani Maqethuka, admitted as much when he was addressing the provincial legislature’s Standing Committee on Social Development on Thursday. “The lack of access to community halls that were used as service points resulted in overcrowding at Sassa local offices. We understand why that was the case as some were earmarked as quarantine sites and some as extensions of clinics,” said Maqethuka.

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The City of Cape Town’s Member of Mayoral Committee for Community Services and Health, Zahid Badroodien, refuted the claims saying that Sassa had at one point reserved the community facilities but elected not to use them.

“Some facilities were earmarked for extension of clinics but at the same time we provided Sassa with a detailed schedule of the facilities and the times that are available. We also provided Sassa with alternative venues where their service points were not available. Between October and November, Sassa reserved the facilities but they never used them,” said Badroodien.

Those that are at the end of the queue got appointments for the next day.

According to Maqethuka, Sassa had a fruitful meeting with the City of Cape Town and currently eight service points have been made available by the City. He told the MPs that they have received money to ensure that the agency workers work overtime to deal with the backlog. Other measures that they have taken include the deployment of volunteers to assist with queuing and making the referral forms available online.

On Friday, Elitsha witnessed some clients getting appointments for Saturday at the Khayelitsha local office. However, there were no queue marshals and the referral forms were not available on Social Development’s website.

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