Police are investigating the use of a water cannon on a crowd of people waiting to renew lapsed disability grants at the SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) office in Bellville, Cape Town last week.
On Friday images of people in the queue being sprayed with water by police enforcing social distancing shocked South Africa. Some were in wheelchairs or on crutches.
Police spokesperson Novela Potelwa said that there was an internal inquiry underway into the incident. She would not elaborate further.
Meanwhile, SASSA has acknowledged that the agency “is in crisis mode”.
“As we speak today, the Eerste Rivier office had a snaking queue of people who have come to apply for disability grants,” SASSA Western Cape spokesperson, Shivani Wahab told GroundUp on Tuesday.
“People are hungry, they need money. Cabinet should have handled the whole issue of the lapsing of disability grants better, they should have staggered the process. The incident in Bellville on Friday was very unfortunate and SASSA should have managed it better.
“It’s a struggle to get people to adhere to social distancing, but that doesn’t mean a water cannon should be used. We have law enforcement assisting us with managing social distancing in Eerste Rivier without using force,” said Wahab.
To reduce the queues, she said, SASSA is issuing clients with appointments for the medical assessments for their applications, and asking them to go back to the office two weeks later.
She said 14,500 appointments had now been scheduled across the Western Cape’s 16 SASSA offices, to deal with the 53,000 people whose disability grants have lapsed. She could not say how long it would take to clear the backlog. “All I can say is that we will try our best to assist every client,” said Wahab.
Since Friday, she said, the Bellville office had scheduled 997 appointments for clients of lapsed disability grants. A total of 7,196 lapsed disability grants must be dealt with at this office.
Black Sash national director Lynette Maart said the process was “very long and complicated”.
“It’s always been like that but it has now been made worse by Covid because people can’t get dates, or they get a date which is then postponed.” She said the Black Sash had asked for a meeting with the Department of Social Development and SASSA.
“We will raise the issue of extending the lapsed disability grants for three months and also the call for SASSA to form a task team that will look into and monitor this issue.”
SASSA has said it cannot afford to extend the grants for three months but the Black Sash has disputed this.
“SASSA management has recruited volunteers to assist with queue management and to ensure that social distancing is adhered to,” said SASSA in a statement. “Additional staff members have been recalled to support all operations at the SASSA Bellville office. SASSA has also sourced services of independent doctors to assist with medical assessments. We are working closely with the City of Cape Town to obtain access to facilities closer to communities.”
Picture: Mary-Anne Gontsana