It’s Covid or hunger – or being sprayed with water – for those sleeping in line at Sassa offices

Mkhuseli Sizani

Police officers fired a water cannon at hundreds of desperate people queueing in line outside the Sassa offices in Bellville on Friday to enforce social distancing.

The snaking queues outside the Sassa offices and Post Offices have become a national crisis with the potential of triggering Covid superspreader events across the country.

The agency said the lapsing of more than 200,000 temporary grants is the main cause of the long queues.

This week applicants for renewal of temporary grants were seen sleeping outside the Sassa offices. 

Sondezwa Lugwali, 44, of Nyanga township, Cape Town went to the Sassa offices in Gugulethu early on Tuesday to have her disabled brother’s social grant renewal processed as Tuesdays are reserved for people with disabilities. 

“I went there at 3:30 thinking I would be in the first 150 people that are served daily but I found hundreds of people including the disabled sleeping outside in boxes. Two weeks later we went back but we were turned away again.

“Those who were in front said they have been camping outside the office since Sunday but they were still not helped.

“My brother, Xolisile Lugwali had a stroke. The last time he got his grant was in November. We are a family of 11 and we all depend on his temporary disability grant of R2,100,” she said. 

“The last time I was here with him I had to hire a taxi for R400. I was retrenched in August due to the impact of Covid-19,” Sondezwa said. 

She said hunger will kill them before Covid-19 does. 

“We have been given an appointment for 26 January in order to come back and take the forms to a doctor to approve his grant renewal application. Then in February we are expected to come here again with those forms and make an application for his temporary disability grant.”

Paseka Letsatsi the national spokesperson of Sassa said temporary disability grants were supposed to lapse from February 2020 but were extended to 31 December 2020. 

“The cost of continuing to pay these grants totalled in excess of R1.5 billion,” said Letsatsi. 

“To have continued payment of the grants until end March 2021 would have cost an additional R1.2 billion, funds that are not available.”

Letsatsi said 210,778 disability grants were suspended at the end of December 2020. 

“Affected citizens are requested to report to the nearest SASSA office, with a detailed referral report from their treating doctor.”

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, visited the Sassa office in Gugulethu on Thursday to assess the situation. Speaking from inside the back of an armoured vehicle, she ordered those waiting in line to keep their distance.

Video source: @itchybyte