South Africa

GROUNDUP

Police probe use of water cannon against social grant applicants

Police are probing the use of a water cannon on people queueing outside SASSA offices in Bellville on 15 January. Archive photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana

Internal inquiry under way as SASSA admits it’s in ‘crisis mode’ in its struggle to reduce snaking queues of ‘hungry’ people.

Police are investigating the use of a water cannon on a crowd 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 physical distancing shocked South Africa. Some were in wheelchairs or on crutches.

Police spokesperson Novela Potelwa said an internal inquiry was under way but would not elaborate.

Meanwhile, SASSA has acknowledged the agency “is in crisis mode”.

“As we speak today, the Eerste River 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,” said Wahab.

“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 River without using force.”

To reduce the queues SASSA was issuing clients with appointments for the medical assessments for their applications, and asking them to go back to the office two weeks later.

Wahab said 14,500 appointments had 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.”

Since Friday the Bellville office had scheduled 997 appointments for people with 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 has 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,” it said. “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.” DM

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