Although the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) is expected to be fully operational after the country moved to level 3 lockdown on Monday June 1, there are still some people who sleep outside its offices with the hope of getting help the next day.
Under lockdown level 5, the Sassa offices were closed and not able to process any applications at all.
From level 4, Sassa phased in its services, with pension applications on Mondays and Tuesdays and child support and foster child grant applications on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Fridays were reserved for the overflow from the previous days in the week, and to finalise applications which could not be finalised just before lockdown.
Under level 4, Sassa operated with a third of its staff.
Nazeema Mansoor was among a group of people who stayed overnight outside Sassa’s Athlone office. She had to return documents for an application, but the date she was given to return, was during lockdown level 5. When she heard that the office had opened with partial staff, she went to the office to return the forms.
“I was there three times before I was assisted. The first time I arrived at 7am and was told that I am too late to be seen to that day. The second time I was again too late, and the third time, (on Wednesday May 27), I decided to sleep over. I was in the queue from 3am the Wednesday morning. That morning we were not helped, and I decided to stay on. Myself and another lady in the queue took turns to relieve each other so that either of us could go home to freshen up and get something to eat. The staff gives out numbers in the morning, and at that time, they only assisted the first 30 people. I was eventually assisted on the Thursday morning at 9am,” Ms Mansoor said.
Soraya Bowers said she was at the Sassa Athlone office in mid-May. Although she arrived at 5am, the queue was already stretched as far as the post office. She then decided to queue from 4pm, hoping to get assistance the next morning, which she eventually received.
“I went with my daughter. She had to take the papers back on the day that lockdown started. The day we decided to stay overnight in the queue, there were so many other people who had to turn back. It got very cold in the early morning hours, but we had to pull through,” Ms Bowers said.
Some of the women in the queue asked ward 46 councillor, Aslam Cassiem, if he could assist with providing something to eat for them, while they waited to be helped.
“Some of the aunties living between Heideveld and Manenberg asked me for help. I took them coffee and food. Initially I thought the group was only about 20 people, because that was how much I catered for, but when I got there, I saw the line was very long. I estimated there were about 100 people,” Mr Cassiem said.
No applications for the special Covid-19 relief grant is being taken at Sassa offices, only electronic applications are accepted.
SASSA did not respond to queries from Athlone News by the time we went to print.