The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has urged the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) to get the City of Cape Town to release community halls for use as satellite offices.
Commissioner Chris Nissen said on Tuesday that, although Sassa was under-resourced, it needed to do more to resolve the crisis.
People have been queuing outside the agency’s offices to secure their spots in the queue.
The commission called on Sassa and the metro to work together to reopen community halls as service points, so that people would not have to sleep outside offices to apply for social grants.
“Obviously, there’s desperation here – desperation of vulnerable, poor people,” Nissen said as he looked at the queues forming for “temporary disability grant” day at the Bellville Sassa office.
He warned Sassa about the problem last year already.
“It’s unacceptable that people can sleep here throughout the night – no toilet facilities, no food, no water, and there are sickly people around here.
“I think it is important that we resolve this issue.”
Nissen said he would also approach church leaders about making church halls available to the agency.
“You can’t handle a crisis with the normal measurements of a working day,” he said.
“They need to pull out all the stops to resolve this crisis.”
Nissen said he still couldn’t believe that water cannons were used on applicants to enforce them to comply with Covid-19 physical distancing regulations.
The City Cape Town said on Tuesday that it was processing requests from Sassa to use its service points.
Councillor Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, said in response to News24’s questions that the City had a list of halls and centres which Sassa asked to use as service points.
“The recreation and parks department is in receipt of the list and will process all booking requests in terms of the memorandums of understanding,” said Badroodien.
“The department is committed to assisting all role players involved with pension payouts as the City understands the impact this has on communities and community members.”
Many people have been sleeping outside the building in a service lane for Pick n Pay’s receiving depot, in the hopes of being attended to.
They are trying to reapply for the temporary disability grants, which were not automatically extended at the end of December.
They were extended automatically during the Covid-19 lockdown, but stopped at the end of December.The SA Human Rights Commission called for a speedy resolution to the grants reapplication crisis at some Sassa offices.
People have to reapply and get another medical assessment to see whether they still qualify or whether their conditions have improved.
Of the more than 200 000 temporary disability grants stopped countrywide, the Western Cape has around 53 000 recipients who must reapply.
Because community halls, which had been used as satellite office venues, were closed due to Covid-19, large groups of people converged at the main offices.
“I can’t afford the taxi fare to come back,” said one of the women who slept on a piece of cardboard.
On Tuesday morning, officials held clipboards triaged the queues with the intention of taking their details, so that they could go home.
They have to wait for a phone call or SMS, which will give them a date and the name of a doctor who will assess them.
“This is better. At least I don’t have to sleep here again,” said another woman.
“At least, they are talking to us now.”
At the front door, security guards multi-tasked as Covid-19 health monitors. They took temperatures, sanitised their hands, helped those in wheelchairs down the steep pavement to the road, and monitored the number of people entering.
People in wheelchairs were attended to first, while people on crutches stood in the sun and waited for their turn. Along the wall outside, in the coveted shady spots, people sat on the pavement, a distance apart from each other, to hand in their medical assessments.
The SA Red Cross Society handed out cups of porridge to people.
In contrast to Friday’s chaos, when police sprayed water at people from an armoured vehicle during a visit by Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, no police officers were there.