Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane said the Eastern Cape government was concerned that long queues at post offices and Home Affairs branches in the province may become Covid-19 super-spreaders.
Speaking during his weekly Covid-19 media briefings in Bhisho on Tuesday, Mabuyane said the provincial government would assist Home Affairs and the Post Office to manage the queues.
On Friday, News24 reported about disturbing pictures and videos doing rounds on social media showing hundreds of people queueing outside the East London Home Affaires branch in long queues, disregarding health protocols.
In one of the videos, people can be seen sleeping on makeshift beds on the floor of the Fleet Street offices on a rainy and cold night in a desperate attempt to secure a better spot for the next morning.
“We have engaged the national department of Home Affairs and the Communication and Digital Technologies departments to work with them in improving services at their servicing centres in our province,” said Mabuyane.
He said: “In all of these service centres, we want to ensure services are provided to the people of our province in a safe environment to ensure that these service centres do not become super-spreaders of Covid-19.
“Government is improving service provision so that these people do not meet at these centres in big numbers.”
“This is where we are very much concerned. Current queues that we see at Home Affairs are not good for our people and we are trying our level best to mitigate and manage those queues using our EPWP [Expanded Public Works Programme] officials as queue marshals to manage and make sure people sanitise,” said Mabuyane.
“The Department of Home Affairs have acknowledged its weaknesses and we are working with them and the minister to try and address those problems.
“Some of them are structural and some are human resource related and we believe that we do have a lot of low hangings that we can easily address to ensure that we manage the situation much better,” said Mabuyane.
“Similarly, with the Post Office, we are working with both provincial and national office to ensure that we deal with challenges that have been presented out of that,” he added.
In its plan to break the back of the crisis, Mabuyane said the provincial government and Home Affairs were targeting big offices in Port Elizabeth, Mthatha, Komani and East London.
Home Affairs acting district operations manager for Buffalo City and Amathole regions told News24 on Friday that the East London branch was seeing more than 400 people a day.
He said this number was exacerbated by people coming from other towns in the Eastern Cape, disregarding their nearest Home Affairs offices.
He said the people were only seen by 16 workers per day as 50% of the staff worked rotational shifts in line with Covid-19 regulations.
He also revealed that a system used to capture personal details of clients including fingerprints, crashed frequently, causing massive delays and creating long queues.
Mabuyane urged people to go to their nearest Home Affairs branches and avoid going to East London.
The premier also urged applicants of the R350 social distress relief grants, to only visit the Post Office only by appointment to prevent gatherings.
Speaking to News24 on Tuesday, Post Office Eastern Cape regional manager Nombulelo Ngubane said while strict regulations were followed inside their branches, limited staff members had made it difficult for them to manage the queues outside the offices.
Ngubane revealed that since they began dispersing the R350 grants eight months ago, SAPO branches in the province had, until Tuesday, paid 290 000 beneficiaries.
Covid-19 grants would end at the end of January 2021 and “in February we will conclude the mop-up which should see the end to the challenge of snaking queues in post offices,” said Ngubane.
In July, Ngubane urged unemployed citizens to refrain from showing up at their 156 branches in the province for the grants unless they were approved beneficiaries and had been invited via SMS to collect cash.