It’s a cold and overcast day in Cape Town’s city centre where over 100 people have joined the queue snaking around the SASSA offices in Long Street.
When we arrived mid-morning, some people were sitting on the ground or in camping chairs and others with children stood around cars parked nearby, as they waited for the line to move.
People were huddled in small groups and covered themselves with blankets to ward off the cold morning breeze. Everyone was wearing a mask, even some of the younger children perched on their parents shoulders. But there was little evidence of physical distancing, nor did officials attempt to assist people to keep their distance from each other.
There were also a few people sleeping near the entrance. This is not a strange sight outside SASSA as many often camp outside the offices for the night in a bid to be one of the first to be served the next day. A notice at the entrance reads:
“Dear SASSA client please be informed that SASSA Cape Town Local office will be able to assist only 70 clients a day due to the level 4 lockdown regulation which requires 1/3 of the compliment in an office.”
Another page stuck on the window gives more details about which days of the week certain clients would be helped. It said that “Wednesdays and Thursdays are the child support and foster child grants”.
Taylin Andreas from Ravensmead who came to apply for a child support grant for her 17-month-old child. “I slept outside [SASSA] for two days with my child,” she said.
The 19-year-old single mom said that while she was given an application inside on Wednesday, she was sent to the police station to get an affidavit. She returned on Thursday to submit her documents but had to join the queue once again, with little prospect of being helped by the time we left.
“It’s not fair because I was already here. So what must I do now?” she asked.
Andreas said that she had “sacrificed everything just to be here and get help” for food and to provide for her family. “I don’t know what else to do other than to stand here in this line,” she said.
Thobela Nkone arrived at the offices at 4pm on Wednesday from Dunoon. He too spent the night outside to apply for a grant for his six-week-old child. Nkone said that last night he asked city workers for cardboard so he had something to put on the cold, wet pavement. “It’s so painful,” he said.
He said there were about 100 people who spent the night there on Wednesday. He did the same last week, but this time he just needed to submit his documents.
To help officials streamline the process, Nkone began making a list of all the people standing in line from Tuesday who could not enter. He had 221 names on the list which did not yet include those who joined the line on Thursday.
Nkone said he is unemployed and should their grant be approved, it would be the only means to feed their child. He suggested that SASSA have separate lines for people who were there to submit forms and another for first time applicants who would take longer to serve.
Denise, who asked that we withhold her surname, said she arrived at about 4am on Thursday to apply for a foster care child grant. She said she first attempted to apply for the grant in February and has been sent from pillar-to-post. She travelled to town from Philippi East.
Denise said that officials inside did not communicate with them which caused confusion for those waiting outside. “If I was not desperate I would leave” she said. “So that’s why I’m here today, to see if I can get everything done so I can get money for my foster child.”
Before the lockdown, Denise worked as an ECD teacher. Her last salary was at the end of February “I am here today because I am desperate,” she said.
By the afternoon it was clear that very few people we first spoke to near the entrance had been helped. It is likely that most people in line will have to return next week because Fridays are reserved for disability grant applicants.