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Social Relief of Distress grant application process intensifies the struggle to survive


Israel Nkuna is a ward committee representative and community activist in Mahlathi Village, Limpopo.

The Social Relief of Distress grant system hurts poor people instead of helping them. It gives us hope that we’ll eat again, then takes it away in a bureaucratic mess. Heartbreak is turning to anger.

My name is Israel Nkuna, and I’m from a small, rural village in Limpopo called Mahlathi. To live here is to have your heart broken every day. 

Since last year, I have been helping poor people from my area apply for the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, which amounts to R350 a month. This year, most of these applications have been declined; just today, I received about 300 messages from people telling me their applications have not been successful. 

If the people I try to help on a daily basis are anything to go by, the grant application system has left millions of South Africans with no support. While we try to deal with an application system that has serious faults, we struggle to survive. While we wait for an appeal process on failed applications, we starve.

Let me share my own case to demonstrate the failures of this grant system. Based on the Department of Social Development’s information, I was eligible for the grant in 2020, yet I was declined. Appeals took almost a year, during which time I had to rely on other people in my community to survive. 

When the outcome of the appeal arrived, it said that I was declined because I was registered for UIF. I queried this, and was told my ID was reflected on the Department of Labour’s database. Yet I have been unemployed since 2019. 

I have since had an application rejected with the reason “Alternative Income Source Detected” given. No Sassa official has been able to show I’ve earned an income, whether on a payslip or a bank statement. 

On the other hand, I know of people who are working, who are registered with the Department of Labour and other government departments, and who are receiving the SRD grant. Whether the system is poorly designed or simply fraudulent, I can’t say, but the outcomes do not serve the people of Mahlathi or others around the country who are in need. 

People’s applications are being rejected for the weakest of reasons. 

Information isn’t shared with applicants, so we can’t even check whether Sassa is getting outdated or false information from banks, the Labour Department, Home Affairs and other departments. 

It’s impossible to get proper answers from the call centre or over email. Simple requests like changes to banking details are ‘escalated’ and never dealt with. 

Call centre operators tell us to be patient. It’s hard to be patient when you’re hungry. It’s hard to be patient when you’re sick, and need an SRD grant to afford the trip to the hospital. It’s hard to be patient when we see our government looting the people.

The SRD grant system hurts poor people instead of helping them. It gives us hope that we’ll eat again, then takes it away in a bureaucratic mess. 

While policies are being weighed up, and application systems fiddled with, we are starving. 

Heartbreak is turning to anger.

We need action now. We need government to do whatever it takes to free up the SRD grants, then institute a Basic Income Guarantee at a liveable level, doing away with these inefficient, unjust eligibility criteria. DM/MC


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  • Susan Keegan says:

    A tragic account of failed administration which is unfortunately true of most govt departments. I’m an employer and it’s no easier. Try helping your staff to claim maternity benefits from UIF. Try claiming Workmen’s Compensation to recover the cost of extended sick leave after an injury at work. Try applying for the ETI from SARS. Try claiming the SDL to recover costs of training your staff. All these claim processes require the most dogged persistence to get what you are due. If you are a small business, you don’t have the resources you need to make a successful claim. The routine incompetence of govt employees is the main problem.

  • Lehlogonolo Magope says:

    Eish Mr nkuna, your article is touching 😢

  • Lehlogonolo Magope says:

    Your article is very strong and touching

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