Temporary disability grant applicants sleeping outside Sassa offices in Bellville

Sassa beneficiaries queue outside a paypoint at Alexandra Plaza in Johannesburg on 30 March 2020. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

The people sleeping opposite the office hailed from suburbs that included Elsies River, Bishop Lavis, Delft, and Uitsig.

“Can’t they just start a number system for the queue so that we don’t have to sleep here tonight,” asked a group of people who had slept outside Bellville’s SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) office again.

“We have no money, so look at what we have to eat,” said a woman in between sucking a sour fig from a bag of the wild fruit.

“This is all I have,” she said.

“The people lying here are sick. They can’t lie like this,” said another woman waving at the people napping on shreds of cardboard boxes, using their bags as pillows.

Only one police vehicle was observed, in contrast to the chaos of Friday when police officers sprayed people from a water cannon mounted on an armoured vehicle, for not socially distancing in line with Covid-19 protocols.

Police had been imploring people to stand apart from each other to avoid the crowding that is often blamed for spreading the virus.

READ MORE: ‘We should have planned better,’ says Zulu on Sassa grants scramble in Bellville

This was in between reading out the names of grant applicants who had secured an appointment to return to the office to reapply for their temporary disability grant.

Using their public address system, they gave the applicants the date they must return as the applicants move through the process of getting a new medical assessment.

However, the spraying of jets of water at people who would not create spaces between one another, shocked many people.

The queue on Monday was a lot smaller, with people standing apart from each other. It was pension application or query day.

“I am here for my father,” said one woman, who did not want to be identified. Looking up from where he sat on the pavement, her elderly father said his pension was stopped at the end of December and he had come to find out what the problem was.

“I am sure we will be seen today,” said his daughter hopefully.

Over 200,000 of these grants countrywide lapsed at the end of December. Around 53 000 of the applicants are in the Western Cape.

ALSO READ: ‘Shameful disregard for human rights’ – Black Sash slams cops over Sassa water cannon incident

They had been extended automatically during the lockdown, but the Minister of Social Development said the department could not afford to simply extend them again.

She and Sassa CEO Totsie Memela said increased unemployment because of job losses during the pandemic meant that more people were applying for grants for children, and they had to make the money last.

The people who need the temporary disability grant must have a medical assessment and if the doctors think their condition still warrants it, they can reapply for a grant which the applicant collects either at a pay point, or via their bank account.

Many of the applicants used to go to community halls near where they live for the administrative processes, but these were closed due to Covid-19 regulations, and applicants have congregated at their nearest Sassa office to get back into the system instead.

The people sleeping opposite the office hailed from suburbs that included Elsies River, Bishop Lavis, Delft, and Uitsig.

The DA-run City of Cape Town was blamed by the opposition ANC for the situation, for not letting Sassa use its halls.

READ MORE: Sick people queue outside SASSA offices as disability grants lapse

The City countered that Sassa had rejected many of the venues it offered, and expected the City to lay the infrastructure. It also needed to retain the halls for communal use.

On Friday during a site visit, Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu said the Western Cape’s congestion was also due to a shortage of doctors who conduct the assessment for the special disability grant.

The department is meeting with the Department of Social Development in the Western Cape on Monday.

In the meantime, many of the people who had slept in a service area opposite the office on Sunday night said they understood the position that Sassa is in, and seemed resigned to having to wait their turn.

“They have told us once they help us, we won’t have to do this again,” said one woman on Monday.

“Friday was a whole chaos but we can’t actually complain, because they tried. They tried their best,” she said of the Sassa officers.

A “neighbour”, who had slept on the ground, said they were allowed to use Sassa’s bathrooms during the day and they hoped that Tuesday would be their last night of sleeping on the pavement.

The Black Sash was among those who condemned Friday’s events, and called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene.

READ NEXT: Winde calls for Sassa grants ‘debacle’ to be defused

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