SASSA needs a reboot
As Social Development MEC I have consistently raised my concerns about the experiences of the beneficiaries of SASSA grants. I will continue to do so to pressure the wholly absent national Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu to respond to the needs of the deeply vulnerable citizens who experience the dysfunctionality of the system daily. This was demonstrated to me when I visited the Bellville SASSA offices this week, which represents the lived experiences of the millions who are so reliant on the grant system. I want the voices of the beneficiaries to speak for themselves and I share below their experiences:
Beneficiary A: His disability grant expired in December. He went to the SASSA office in Bellville to apply for a new one, only to receive an appointment for 14 February. He says he has been without money for three months, relying on loans to make it through. Should his application be successful, he will only receive his next grant payment in March. He had to borrow the R36 needed to travel by taxi from Delft to Bellville.
Beneficiary B: It is 06:30am, a woman says she and her husband have been sleeping outside the Bellville SASSA office since 16:00 the previous day to ensure they were among the first in line. They do this, despite having an appointment, for fear of not being served.
Beneficiary C: A man is here with his brother, who is applying for a disability grant. The man is frustrated because last week when he came to the SASSA office, he was informed his brother, who has cancer, has to be there to apply in person. His brother can barely walk on his own. Upon their second visit the man was told he cannot go into the office with his brother, he needed to wait outside.
We were met by snaking queues going around the building of the SASSA office in Bellville. The operations manager informed us there is a queue management system where beneficiaries who have appointments are assisted first before those without appointments. There were two shorter lines of people with enquiries. This office services one of the biggest areas in the Cape Metro, helping approximately 300 people a day. There are only 32 grant administrators, which we were informed by a staffer is simply not enough. Load-shedding also hinders services, as administrators must capture grant applications manually, causing a backlog.
Many of the people in the queues told us they first tried going to service points in their respective areas (Elsies River, Belhar, and Delft) but these were closed. Memorandums of Understanding for venues need to be arranged as a matter of urgency, so that SASSA service points are localized for cash-strapped clients who cannot afford to travel far.
After our visit, news broadcaster eNCA reported on the abysmal system, which I believe needs a serious overhaul as a greater footprint is required to service beneficiaries effectively, and more importantly: WITH DIGNITY.
According to the news report, these were the responses from SASSA Western Cape:
- Queue management and appointment systems are in place to mitigate beneficiaries queueing overnight. Clearly something isn’t working with these systems, as beneficiaries feel they must queue overnight to avoid being turned away should there be system failures or load-shedding-related issues.
- SASSA is in the process of procuring inverters to mitigate against the impact of load-shedding. Why only now? Eskom has been failing South Africa for more than a decade. Surely contingency plans should have been put in place long ago.
- Postbank has resolved its system challenges which led to delays in payments to beneficiaries. SASSA and Postbank have told Parliament’s social development committee this as well. Is this a permanent fix? Have any of the criminal elements that apparently infiltrated Postbank’s network last year been apprehended? We will monitor the situation in the coming months. If national government is serious about turning Postbank into a state bank, it first needs to ensure it succeeds in disbursing grants without any blunders.
I am hoping to get concrete answers in my meeting with SASSA management next week. I won’t stop calling for a sit-down meeting with my national counterpart, Minister Lindiwe Zulu, as SASSA is her responsibility. The Western Cape Government has been standing in the ever-widening gap created by SASSA. It’s time national comes to the party.