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Fears for health and safety of Sassa workers as long queues pose virus threat

Sassa cards

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has expressed its concerns about the health and safety of its members as hundreds of disability grants beneficiaries flock to the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa).

In December, a total of 210 778 temporary disability grants lapsed amid promises by Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu that they were working on a plan to ensure the beneficiaries to be affected by the bulk lapsing of grants re-applied by March 2021. But there have been snaking queues outside Sassa offices, especially in the Eastern Cape.

On Friday, Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said Sassa offices have experienced a large number of beneficiaries queuing to access services over the past two days to renew their temporary disability grants.

Saphetha said their call that the grant be extended by a further six months fell on deaf ears.

He also said the long queues are a danger to the health and safety of the people because there is no social distancing, which potentially increases the risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“Moreover, beneficiaries have to queue overnight and sleep in the cold in order to receive services in the Sassa offices. This is disheartening, considering that most of these beneficiaries are disabled and very old.

Sassa beneficiaries

Saphetha said Sassa could have planned much better to deal with the situation and expressed dismay that Zulu only started visiting the offices on Thursday. A caring government would have moved with speed to attend to the most vulnerable sector of our society.

“In this regard, we call upon the Department of Social Development and Sassa to consider the extension of the temporary disability grants up until the agency can present a proper plan to deal with the influx at Sassa local offices, as a means to reduce transmission of the virus during the current second wave.

He also said they would demand an urgent meeting with Sassa to get answers regarding this “shocking and unacceptable situation”.

“The management of Sassa must answer how it plans to implement the directive of the Department of Employment and Labour of using 50% of staff at a time and what plans they have to ensure that service delivery is not compromised while protecting the lives of its employees.

He said they would do everything in their power to guarantee the health and safety of workers and beneficiaries. Those in power will be made to account for the sordid conditions that beneficiaries are subjected to,” Saphetha added.

Meanwhile, the DA called on the Department of Social Development to urgently increase its efforts to recruit more medical doctors to assess disability grant applicants.

DA MP Bridget Masango made the call after conducting an oversight inspection at Sassa offices in Mitchells Plain with her colleagues.

Masango said it was clear that the lack of doctors to assess disability grant applicants was one of the major reasons behind the recent “inhumane queues” and waiting hours outside Sassa offices across the country.

She said Zulu’s visit to the offices in Cape Town on Thursday had been a PR stunt as no tangible changes were implemented to assist the hundreds of vulnerable disability grant applicants and other grant recipients in desperate need of assistance.

Masango said during their visit they encountered a long queue of applicants and beneficiaries waiting in the rain outside the Mitchells Plain offices. Many had been waiting in the cold for hours.

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Source: IOL