Beneficiaries have been sleeping outside the Sassa office in Raisethorpe, Pietermaritzburg hoping to get a place close to the front of the queue to renew their lapsed disability grants.Beneficiaries have been sleeping outside the Sassa office in Raisethorpe, Pietermaritzburg hoping to get a place close to the front of the queue to renew their lapsed disability grants.

PHOTO: Nompendulo Ngubane/GroundUp

  • Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has called for an
    urgent explanation and resolution of the Sassa disability and care grant
  • Winde has said not only do beneficiaries no longer
    have food, but the queues of desperate people at Sassa offices trying to
    reapply could cause Covid-19 super-spreaders.
  • Sassa says it is trying its best to resolve the
    situation amid staff shortages due to Covid-19 infections among staff and
    reduced in-office staff numbers to maintain social distancing.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has called for an
urgent explanation and resolution of the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa)
disability and care grants “debacle”, which has left desperate people
queuing to reapply after grants were stopped at the end of December.

“This debacle is keeping food off people’s
tables,” Winde said during the Western Cape government’s weekly briefing
on Covid-19 in the province.

“And, it is becoming a [Covid-19]
super-spreader in itself.

“…Really it is unacceptable and unfair on the
citizens across the country, but of course the citizens in this province
too,” said Winde, calling for the situation to be defused.

He said he will demand answers from Social
Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, and if he does not get action within the
next 24 hours, he will “escalate it”.

The province’s Social Development MEC Sharna
Fernandez posted pictures that she said were taken outside the Eerste River
Sassa offices in Cape Town, and called for urgent attention to the situation.

The EFF also drew attention to the plight of people
sleeping on pieces of cardboard in the hopes of getting into the building and receiving
some service.

Long queues have formed as people try to reapply
for their temporary disability grants.

Western Cape Sassa spokesperson Shivani Wahab said
the province needed to re-process around 53 000 of the more than 200 000 grants
that were automatically extended to cushion the blow of the lockdown, but which
ended on the last day of December.

She said Sassa was concerned about the situation,
particularly for people who were sleeping rough in the hope of being served.

“It’s not okay for this to be happening,”
she said.

She explained that the situation was being
compounded by having fewer staff than usual at the 60 offices in the Western
Cape. This was because of office closures due to contamination, staffers being
ill with Covid-19 and the requirement to have less staff to maintain the
required social distancing protocols to keep staff safe.

She said the Bellville office, for example, had to
close temporarily due to a case of Covid-19 in the office, but will be
reopening again.

“We [have] limited staff and we can only do so
much in terms of queue management and crowd control,” she said.

One of the hurdles that applicants must cross is
the provision of a full medical examination report to establish whether the
condition claimed for is still present. This then has to be verified.

Extra doctors will be needed to help clear the
sheer number of people whose claims need to be verified all at once, and talks
are taking place with the Department of Health to bring private doctors on
board to help with this.

People who get to the counter in the coming days
should expect their details to be taken and to be given an appointment. They
will then be asked to return on the appointed date with a full medical
examination report to establish whether their condition warrants a repeat of
the grant.

Wahad said in cases of clear financial distress,
some applicants could be given the special Social Relief of Distress Grant
until their disability grant application is finalised.

Unfortunately, the planned rollout of online
applications was disrupted by last year’s Covid-19 lockdown, so the system is
not live yet and that is not an option for people with access to the internet.

Due to limited numbers of staff being allowed in
the offices, staff members are being rotated so that those who would normally
be in-office to assist with queue management, or do back-office work or work
from home continue with the work that needs to be done.

She said Cabinet could not extend the temporary
grants again automatically because of a lack of funds.

In December, Zulu said the government will need
R1.2 billion to extend the grants again, to March 2021.

Temporary disability grants usually lapse after a
certain period and recipients have to go for a medical examination to see
whether the condition has improved or whether they qualify to keep receiving
the grant.

It reportedly cost R41 823 960 to extend the
temporary disability grants to December, from October.

In reply to a question from the DA in December,
Zulu said it would cost R62 735 940 to pay 11 243 care dependency grants for
the following three months, and R1 176 141 240 to extend the 210 778 temporary
disability grants.

The R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant is
expected to end at the end of January.

Gillion Bosman, chairperson of the Western Cape
Legislature’s Standing Committee on Social Development, said he intended
sending a letter to Sassa asking that it explain itself to the committee and
stating what it is doing to alleviate the situation.


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