Grant queue blues

Snaking lines outside the Mitchell's Plain SASSA office.

In line with the directive by president Cyril Ramaphosa, with the easing of lockdown regulations to Level 4, a phased in approach was adopted at South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) offices and staff are currently working on a rotational basis.

The Mitchell’s Plain Sassa office also had to temporarily close for sanitisation after an official tested positive for Covd-19, said Sassa spokesperson, Shivani Wahab.

Snaking lines have become the norm at the Sassa office in the area, more so since relief measures were announced to help those in distress.

Among those in the queue, some without masks, on Friday May 22, were disabled people, seniors and mothers with children. Many complained about the service they are receiving from Sassa and the systems in place by the agency.

According to one of the people in the queue, Frederick Stoffberg there has been poor communication from the Sassa office on service delivery given to the people of Mitchell’s Plain.

A poster was put up on the wall outside the office with designated times for the elderly, for child support and disability support, he said.

“People were given appointments, but every day the Sassa office of Mitchell’s Plain comes up with excuses using the Covid-19 issue. Due to this the people attend their offices on a daily basis, but go home without receiving help,” Mr Stoffberg said.

The concern is that Sassa officials do not address the people themselves who are standing in the long queues, as to what the procedure is.

Instead, every day private security staff announce that the office will not be in operation due to Sassa staff members testing positive for Covid-19, he said.

“We are human beings and South Africans who must be treated the same as everyone else, we are all trying to survive this pandemic. Every day on the news people talk about the poor that need to be helped, but we’re overlooked. We put ourselves at risk to this virus. People flock every day to the Mitchell’s Plain Sassa office, standing in long queues, in the early hours of the morning to be helped,” he said.

He said elderly people, disabled people, the unemployed, are not being helped and are turned away.

However, Ms Wahab said as a strategic measure, Sassa introduced grant type days at all local offices, nationwide, to avoid a high influx of clients at any contact point.

“Services at local office level are Monday and Tuesday for old age grant applications, Wednesday and Thursday for child support grant and foster child grant applications and Friday for disability grant applications on an appointment basis,” said Ms Wahab.

Ms Wahab said Sassa can confirm that their network of local offices, in the Western Cape, have reopened on Thursday May 11, after being closed during the National State of Disaster, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The social relief of distress (SRD) Covid-19 social grant that was introduced as part of government’s social relief package during the pandemic, is now ready for implementation. The application process for this is fully automated and will not entail clients accessing a Sassa office personally, she said.

The multiple access channels for applications as announced by the Minister for Social Development , Lindiwe Zulu, mean that prospective clients can apply for the SRD Covid-19 social grant from their homes. For clients who have no access to technology, Sassa will deploy volunteers to assist with applications in communities.

In cases where a temporary disability grant is suspended, they will be reinstated and paid until October this year.The same applies for the care dependency and foster child grants that will lapse during lockdown. The reinstated social grants will be paid before the end of this month, she said.

She said the high influx of clients at the Mitchell’s Plain office was due to the fact that they have been inundated with queries from the public on the application process and the application channels for the SRD Covid-19 grant.

She said while Sassa was busy finalising the required controls for this, by developing and testing the required technology, the public was understandably in dire need of assistance and definite answers from the government. The intention of this grant, is to provide those with no income, who have been affected by the national lockdown, with assistance.

The intervention is by no means a “top-up” for those who are receiving an income, said Ms Wahab. Those who are already receiving assistance from government in the form of other grants will not qualify for the SRD Covid-19 grant.

Under Level 3 of the lockdown, more staff will return to duty and hopefully Sassa offices will be better capacitated to serve the high influx of clients, she said.

To avoid having to queue, people can make use of the Sassa call centre toll-free number at 0800 60 10 11 for social grant enquiries.

“The social relief of distress Covid-19 grant that was introduced as part of government’s social relief package during the pandemic is a fully automated process and does not entail clients accessing a Sassa office personally,” Ms Wahab reiterated. “No applications may be done at any Sassa local office.”

If people have to visit a Sassa office, they are reminded to always wear a mask, or there will be no entry. There are also no children allowed, and social (physical) distancing needs to be adhered to as clients are only being attended to by a third of total staff capacity, Ms Wahab said.

BLOB Additional reporting by Tamlynne Thompson.