SASSA not processing new disability grant applications during the pandemic

“I came here with my letter to apply for a grant. I didn’t even make it through the gate”

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People queue outside the SASSA office in Gugulethu. They are complaining that they never get any assistance at the branch. Photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana

The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) says it will not be processing any new applications for disability grants during the pandemic.

At its Gugulethu office, Fridays are allocated for new applicants or beneficiaries with queries on their disability grants. This arrangement has seen dozens of people camping outside offices, often overnight, in order to be first in line. SASSA says its staff can only allow a few people inside because of the danger of spreading Covid-19.

“I come here every Friday. I have had this letter [from a doctor] since February but I still have nothing to show for it,” said Mveleli Masiza.

When we visited the office in Gugulethu, Masiza was standing in a snaking queue outside the branch along with dozens of people with hardly any attempt at maintaining physical distance.

Masiza has epilepsy and can no longer work because of the illness. “I was given a letter by my doctor which says that I am eligible to get a social grant. But each time I came here with my letter to apply for a grant, I did not even make it through the gate,” he said.

Another resident, Pamela Xhishi, said that despite heavy rains, she comes to wait in line, hoping she will finally get assistance.

Xhishi said she last received her social grant in January. “I want to find out why I am not receiving my social grant anymore. I have epilepsy; it gets me anywhere, anytime and I take medication for it.

“I come here every Friday but I would be lying if I said I had made it through those gates. We are always turned away,” she said.

A few weeks ago they were turned away because a staff member had tested positive for Corona, she said. “We queue here in the cold and the rain sometimes, from early in the morning only to be told to return the following week. Sometimes they do not even bother opening the office at all. We are tired and don’t know what to do anymore,” said Xhishi. “All I want is my social grant. I used that money to buy myself proper healthy food and to pay my stokvels. Now I have to depend on my poor aunt who is barely making ends meet to take care of me.”

On 26 June the SASSA office was vandalised and it was closed for a week.

Commenting on the incident, SASSA Western Cape spokesperson Shivani Wahab said, “Clients apparently forced their way into the office. The premises and contents were damaged. Vandalising public property and jeopardising staff safety makes no rational sense.”

Wahab advised people to visit other offices should a specific site be temporarily closed in respect of a Covid-19 case.

Masiza, who said he witnessed the office being vandalised, said, “People are fed up, we all are. We queue here from 5am. I have even been to the Athlone and Mitchells Plain SASSA branches but I was sent back to this one.

“Here I am now, but where’s the assistance? They should close these offices once and for all,” said Masiza.

Wahab confirmed that they had received complaints from the public. She said that SASSA was not processing any new applications for disability grants during the pandemic.

“At this point we are unable to assist these clients. We are aware of the plight faced by these clients who have the option of applying for the social relief of distress Covid-19 grant in the interim,” said Wahab.

The Gugulethu office was closed last week again due to a confirmed Covid-19 case. It was the third case registered by the Department of Social Development. Services continued from Monday, 20 July, she said.

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TOPICS:  Covid-19 Human Rights Social Grants

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