Covid-19 protocols are observed inside SASSA offices, but not in the snaking queues of people waiting outside

Social grant applicants spend the night huddled together outside in the hope of being helped

By Marecia Damons

8 December 2020

Social grant applicants sleeping outside the SASSA Eerste River offices last week at about 10:25pm. Photo: Peter Herring (all rights reserved by the photographer)

South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) offices are operating with a third of staff to observe Covid-19 protocols. But in the snaking queues of grant applicants outside the offices, no protocols are observed.

When GroundUp arrived at the Eerste River SASSA offices at 5am last Thursday, there was no social distancing. Some people were huddled together in small groups to keep warm. By 6:30am there were already snaking lines. When the doors were opened at 7:30am, there were more than 100 people waiting outside in the queue. Some had spent the night outside, with blankets and camping chairs.

Pumzile Nkathana had left Kraaifontein at 4am, taking a taxi, two trains and another taxi to the Eerste River offices, to apply for a child support grant. It was his third attempt.

“You must spend a lot of money,” said Nkathana. “I take a taxi from Delft, then take a train from Kraaifontein to Bellville. From Bellville, I take another train to Kuilsriver. Then from Kuilsriver, I take a taxi to Eerste River.”

“Then you get here and they don’t want to help you: they say you are late,” he said.

Nkathana first tried to apply for a child support grant in November. At his second attempt, he was sent back and told to bring bank statements and his marriage certificate. He does occasional work as a gardener, and is the breadwinner in the household of five other family members.

“When you phone they don’t answer. They work very slowly, then when it’s time for you to be helped, they say you must go back home and come another day. And you have to spend more money to come back again,” said Nkathana.

Hudson Mzondi was queuing for his 23-year-old daughter who waited in a car with her one-month-old son. They had left their home in Strand at 11:30pm the previous night to apply for the child support grant.

Shafikah and Sulayman Samuels also spent the night in their car. They left their five-year-old and five-month-old sons with her mother and arrived at 11pm to apply for a child support and disability grant for the five-month-old.

They had already come the previous day, arriving at 12:45am to stand in line. But when the SASSA offices opened, they were told that applications for child support grants are not processed on Wednesdays.

“They told us they only do child grants on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So we had to come back last night and spend the whole night here again,” Shafikah Samuels said.

“This is how it goes here. You need to come in the early hours if you want to get helped.”

SASSA Western Cape spokesperson Shivani Wahab said that the agency’s local offices across the country had resumed operations in May with a third of its staff in order to adhere to hygiene protocols.

To avoid a high influx of clients at any contact point, local offices dealt with applications for different grants on different days, she said. “Monday and Tuesday will be Old Age Grant applications, Wednesday and Thursday are for Child Support Grant applications, and on Friday it will be Disability Grant applications and appointments.”

But, Wahab said, the Eerste River office still received a large number of applications and enquiries on a daily basis.

“Prior to the national lockdown, the SASSA Eerste River local office serviced nine additional service points: Sir Lowry’s Pass, Strand, Lwandle, Macassar. Wesbank, Mfuleni, Kraaifontein, Wallacedene and Bloekombos. All service points are now closed, with the Eerste River local office, managing the high volume of applications from these areas,” said Wahab.

She said SASSA in the Western Cape would re-open three strategic service points and an additional venue near the Eerste River local office to “alleviate the high demand at this contact point and ensure that all clients are assisted without having to wait in queues for services”.