News24 Wire
Wire Service
3 minute read
20 Jan 2021
4:20 pm

Western Cape police to investigate use of water cannons on Sassa applicants

News24 Wire

In the meantime, Sassa is trying to resolve the backlog of applications caused by a decision not to extend the temporary disability grants again.

Over a hundred people stand in a snaking line outside SASSA on Long Street on Thursday morning. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Western Cape police launched an internal investigation into why disabled and sick people were sprayed with a water cannon for not social distancing at the Sassa offices in Bellville last week.

The incident elicited shock after people were sprayed for not keeping a distance between each other in line with Covid-19 advisories.

In the meantime, Sassa is trying to resolve the backlog of applications caused by a decision not to extend the temporary disability grants again, which means people must reapply and get a new medical assessment.

On Friday, the police had been monitoring while hundreds of people tried to get into the building in Bellville to get a doctor’s appointment for the medical assessment they need to reapply.

Many had slept on the pavements as the Western Cape bore the brunt of the reapplication process, with 53 000 of the more than 200 000 applicants needing to reapply.

Community halls have been closed because of Covid-19, which meant that people could not go to nearby satellite offices, and Sassa is working with half its usual staff due to Covid-19 restrictions on the number of people allowed in an office.

READ MORE: ‘We should have planned better,’ says Zulu on Sassa grants scramble in Bellville

Sassa CEO Totsie Memela and Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu visited the site of the growing crisis on Friday.

Zulu climbed into an armoured police vehicle and used their public address system to ask people to stand apart from each other to prevent new Covid-19 cases.

Shortly after she left, the police – who had been helping Sassa announce names and giving people their appointment dates – let loose with water cannons after the applicants seemed to show no signs of moving.

The incident has been condemned widely, with the SA Human Rights Commission demanding an urgent meeting with all parties involved.

The DA-run City of Cape Town was blamed by the opposition ANC for closing its community halls.

The City said it not only had to do so, but that Sassa had rejected some of the venues it offered and also wanted the City to install the infrastructure Sassa uses.

Premier Alan Winde said that at a provincial meeting he attended this week, everybody, including Western Cape police commissioner Lieutenant General Yolisa Matakata, was upset over the use of water cannons.

The SAPS said police management met Sassa leadership in the province on Monday in a bid to resolve the problem of large groups of people queuing at some Sassa points and there was an internal investigation.

ALSO READ: ‘Shameful disregard for human rights’ – Black Sash slams cops over Sassa water cannon incident

In the meantime, Sassa spokesperson Shivani Wahab said the agency had put several measures in place to help fix the situation.

This includes getting volunteers from the National Development Agency to help with queue management and ensuring social distancing is adhered to.

Additional staff members have been recalled to support operations at the Bellville office, independent doctors have been found to help with the medical assessments and Sassa is working with the City of Cape Town to secure extra venues closer to where the applicants live.

The Sassa Bellville office has a total of 7 196 lapsed disability grants and, by Tuesday, Sassa had scheduled 997 appointments so far.

Sassa has also secured 11 venues in the Cape Town metropole so far, compared with the 31 sites it had before the Covid-19 shutdown.

However, of the 522 doctors Sassa approached to help with the medical assessments, only 33 responded.

Their contracts are being finalised and they are being trained.

READ NEXT: Sick people queue outside SASSA offices as disability grants lapse

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