Lawrence Adams, 60, was among many who stayed overnight outside the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) in Athlone on Sunday August 1 so that he could apply for a pension.
Mr Adams, who lives in Hanover Park, said he had been trying to apply for his pension since April this year, just a day after his birthday, but he had been turned away four times.
In an effort to secure a spot this time around, he decided to spend the night outside their office on Sunday night.
“I have been here since 8.30pm last night, and I was number 12 in the queue. My application is finally through. The four previous occasions I was here, I was turned away just as I made it to the front of the queue. We were told that they only help people up until 3pm,” he said.
On Monday August 2, officials informed those waiting that they would only be assisting 100 people, and numbers were handed out.
However, there were hundreds more hoping to get help. According to Fatima Hill, who has also tried to apply for her pension, Mondays are exclusively for pensioners at SASSA Athlone. The other days are for disability and childcare grants.
“I was here in June, then twice in July, and now again this morning (Monday August 2). It is so pathetic. We have to stand here for 12 hours, some come here as early as 3am, only to be turned away. Last week they only helped 40 people a day. I am relieved that they are seeing 100 people today, as I am number 65. Last Monday I had a back ache from standing for so long,” Ms Hill said.
Sylvia Abrahams challenged the national minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, to experience for herself how difficult it is for pensioners to access this service.
“My daughter sent an email to Ward 60 councillor, Mark Kleinschmidt, and he responded promptly. He forwarded the email to Ms Zulu’s office, but up until today, she has not even acknowledged receipt of the email. They are not in touch with what is happening on the ground. Why must people sleep here overnight? It is not right,” Ms Abrahams said.
Shaun Andrews said he has been there seven times, unsuccessfully trying to apply for a disability grant.
“Every time I have to spend money on transport from Manenberg. I am on crutches, and I have to queue from 5am. My papers state that I had to bring my supporting documents by the end of June, but I have been trying to get in seven times. This is frustrating,” he said.
Ibtisaam Abdol has also tried since February to apply for a disability grant. Her medical report expires next week, and she too, has not managed to hand in her documents.
“I asked my father to sleep over, as the people are charging you R100 to sleep here to keep your spot. Who has that kind of money?” Ms Abdol asked.
SASSA spokesperson Shivani Wahab said they are operating with a limited staff capacity.
“As per stipulated Covid-19 workplace protocols, SASSA may operate with only 30% of the total staff capacity at any SASSA contact point. The recent spate of taxi violence, coupled with a non-operational public transport system, disrupted operations further as some of the staff are unable to travel to and from work during this period. A number of SASSA offices, where positive cases of Covid-19 were identified, had to be closed for sanitisation and this further exacerbated operational challenges and disrupted even the fulfilment of appointments of clients for various social grants applications,” she said.
Ms Wahab said an online application portal is available to prevent applicants standing in long queues, but many of the pensioners the Athlone News spoke to, said they do not have online access, or do not know how to use it.
“Clients are encouraged to utilise the SASSA Online Mobile Application App for disability grant assessment bookings and for the application of other grant types. This innovative concept, developed in response to Covid-19, enables prospective clients to book and schedule their medical assessments appointments, without having to physically access a SASSA Office. We would like to remind clients to make use of this platform. Medical referral forms for disability grants are accessible on our website at sassa.gov.za,” Ms Wahab said.