Disabled residents demand Sassa reopen Khayelitsha office

The protesters, most of whom have some form of physical disability, want Sassa and the Department of Social Development to be housed in one building. Photo by Vincent Lali

Social grant recipients in Khayelitsha would much prefer having Sassa in its old premises with the Department of Social Development as it is closer to public transport and much safer, the protesters argued.

Angry Khayelitsha residents demonstrated and demanded that Sassa (South African Social Security Agency) offices be moved back to the premises of the Western Cape Department of Social Development (WCDSD) near Khayelitsha Mall in Khayelitsha. They carried placards that read: “Stop making people sleep outside” and “Social Development stop shifting your responsibility” as they toyi-toyied and sang struggle songs.

The residents protested under the banner of Freedom for the Forgotten, an organisation that supports the rights and dignity of people living with disabilities in Khayelitsha. Its work typically involves helping people with disabilities to file applications for employment, education or for a disability grant and to make doctor appointments.

Sibongiseni Faku from Freedom for the Forgotten said Sassa has only one office in Kuyasa, and it not adequate to serve Khayelitsha residents who want social grants. Sassa officials used to work in the same building as the DSD officials in Khayelitsha. They were relocated to other offices situated in the same building as Kuyasa Library in Kuyasa about two years ago.

The residents wanted two officials who came out to collect their memorandum to address them. But one official who the activists called Mr. Fritz only had “nothing to say”. Angered, community leader Thoko Aba said: “Why are you so arrogant and speak to us from behind the gate? You can see some of us are physically challenged but you refuse to come to us,” she cried.

Aba said residents want Sassa to move back to the premises of the WCDSD. “The two departments’ mandates are interrelated, but the DSD don’t want Sassa officials to work here,” she said. “We want the residents to get services in one place rather than walk back and forth between the two departments.” WCDSD is located near taxi ranks, a police station and a train station, and as such it is easy for elders to reach it without walking long distances. “If residents are here to get assistance, they can certify documents at the police station close by,” Aba said.

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Sandiswa Makoba, a member of Masizakhe Disability Forum, said she joined the protest to support people living with disabilities. “Guards turn away people who come here to register for disability grants. I want the WCDSD to stop turning them away and help them,” she said. “It pains me that people who can’t even see or speak come here early and endure cold, only to be turned away.”

Goodman Makhanda, a member of Freedom for the Forgotten, said: “We want the Sassa office to be returned here [Khayelitsha Mall] because there is no space to stand where it is currently located. Residents stand outside in an unfenced open space and get robbed there,” he said.

Makhanda said residents seeking Sassa services would be safer at WCDSD. “People would be more secure here because there are more guards here than at Sassa offices in Kuyasa,” he said. Grant recipients who are desperate to get services pay guards to keep spaces for them in the queue at Sassa. “Residents pay guards so that they can lie and say they were in front of others in the queue and get services,” he said.

Faku said: “The officials say they can’t work with Sassa here, but their job is to ensure that people don’t suffer. We cannot allow a situation where people sleep outside so they can get an appointment date.”

Asked why the Sassa office was moved to Kuyasa, Esther Lewis, spokesperson for WCDSD, said: “It was no longer feasible for the Western Cape Department of Social Development to continue sharing premises with Sassa due to the constrained space which impacted DSD staff’s ability to render effective services.

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“It is important to note that Sassa is a national agency of the South African government to administer and distribute social grants, on behalf of the National Department of Social Development. Any further queries will have to be directed to Sassa or the national DSD,” she said.

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