Concerns around the lack of social distancing and use of masks outside the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) building on the corner of Strand and Long Streets were raised when hundreds of people gathered for inquiries.
Among those in the queue on Thursday May 28, which ran from Strand Street to Waterkant Street, were mothers with babies and people who braved the rain for days in the queue.
While some weren’t wearing masks, the City Central Improvement District (CCID) Chrysalis ambassadors were seen organising the line to somewhat adhere to social distancing, while cleaners swept up the debris and cardboard mattresses left on the pavement.
People in the queue spoke to CapeTowner on condition of anonymity.
A woman who came to apply for a child grant said when she arrived at 4am, the space outside the office looked like a mortuary. “Why is everyone allowed to sleep in a pile in front of the office and not social distance? Someone has to monitor the situation, because we come early to find one person sleeping in the line, but then that person holds a space for others as well.”
Another woman said because the Gugulethu offices were closed, she had to come to the CBD offices and slept on the street for 2 nights. “We have to come here. Some of us don’t work and our spouse don’t work because of the lockdown. What choice do we have?”
“We are scared because we are increasing our chances of contracting Covid-19, and the crime, but we need the money to support our families.”
Pictures of the queues were also sent to the CapeTowner, where people were seen chatting in crowds outside the offices, some wearing no masks, and no social distance is being practiced. Police vans can also be seen next to the queues, and there appears to be no intervention.
A man who works nearby, who took the pictures, said hordes of people queued around the block for hours, with no attempt to observe social distancing.
“The police vans right next to the people do nothing to control the crowd and make them wear masks and observe social distancing, nor is any effort made by SASSA to control the people. How many of these people test positive and will infect others?
“Others cannot use that side of the pavement and the people who do not exercise proper procedures for safety, put us all in danger.”
Communications director at Sassa, Shivani Wahab, said in order to reduce crowding at offices in order to stay in line with the lockdown regulations, SASSA had introduced grant type days at local offices.
The services are now being rendered as follows:
BLOB: Monday and Tuesday – Old Age Grant applications only
BLOB: Wednesday and Thursday – Child Support Grant Applications only
BLOB: Friday – Disability Grant applications on an appointment basis only In cases where a temporary disability grant was suspended, the grant will be reinstated and paid till October 2020.The same applies to the Care Dependency and Foster Child Grants that are due to lapse during lockdown.
The reinstated social grants will be paid before the end of May 2020, she said.
Ms Wahab said the overcrowding at the CBD SASSA office could have been because clients were unaware of the phased in approach for services and the specific grant type days implemented.
It could have also been that the SASSA offices in Mitchells Plain, Athlone and Eerste River offices were temporarily closed for sanitisation due to positive cases of Covid-19.
The offices have since been reopened.
She said to avoid queuing, people could use the SASSA call centre at 0800 60 10 11 for social grant enquiries as no enquiries are managed at SASSA Local Offices.
“The social relief distress Covid-19 distress grant that was introduced as part of governments social relief package during the pandemic is a fully automated process and does not entail clients accessing a SASSA office personally. No applications may be done at any SASSA local office.The multiple access channels for applications as announced by the National Minister for Social Development, mean that prospective clients may apply for the Covid-19 grant from their homes. For clients who have no access to technology, SASSA will deploy volunteers to assist with applications in communities.”
If people have to visit a SASSA office, they are reminded to always wear a mask, or there will be no entry. There are also no children allowed, and social distancing needs to be adhered to as clients are only being attended to by a third of total staff capacity, she said.
“SASSA Cape Town office has a queue management system in place and management at the office address clients on all aspects of service including challenges that arise with a high demand for services.
“As individuals, employers, employees, government, civil society and businesses, we have a collective role to play in fighting the pandemic.”
Asked about the police’s duty when people are seen queuing or in events that no social distancing is practiced, spokesperson Captain Ezra October said while the police need to be present to create a safe environment for queuing clients and assist with compliance, SASSA, or any other service which requires queuing, need to also take responsibility for it’s social distancing by employing staff members and security personnel to regulate and draw 1.5 meter lines for beneficiaries standing in outside queues.