DSD / SASSA / NDA on COVID-19 challenges and response, with Minister

Social Development

22 April 2020
Chairperson: Mr M Gungubele (ANC); Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

VIDEO: DSD COVID-19 response and challenges (incl food security programmes, GBV programmes and services for homeless people)

COVID-19: Regulations and Guidelines
Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002

The Minister of Social Development opened the "virtual" meeting by explaining the structures created for all sectors of government, to work in unison in the fight against COVID19. She assured the joint meeting of the Portfolio and Select Committees that the Department was working tirelessly to ensure that grants are paid, and social relief is provided.

The Department of Social Development (DSD), South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and National Development Agency (NDA) briefings spoke about the food security programmes, GBV services and services for homeless people. The Department stated that it had met 10% of the national target of one million food parcels distributed to households. DSD was unable to furnish the Committee with exact statistics of GBV incidents that have occurred since lockdown. They have created a mobile app that will allow GBV victims to signal for help without having to call the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre directly.

The Committee was pleased that SASSA is working on a digital method for people to apply for grants as well as for the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant. This will apply to both smart and non-smart mobile phones. It will allow for others to apply on behalf of people who do not have a mobile phone or are not comfortable using one. The grants will then be paid to a bank account, e-wallet or other forms of cash transfer.

NDA has allocated R1.8 million to partner with 52 civil society organisations that provide ten volunteers each, amounting to 520 volunteers. The volunteers will be deployed to distribute food parcels and other necessities to the elderly and disabled in communities.

Members pointed out that the provision of food parcels was inadequate and lacked uniformity across the country. It was suggested that the MECs for each province join the next Committee meeting to account for what is happening in their province as they are responsible for implementation. Members mentioned corruption where local councillors were charging beneficiaries a delivery fee or were diverting food parcels to their own homes. A coherent protocol for delivery was needed for better oversight.

Members welcomed the R350 Social Relief Distress Grant and were of the view that this intervention must be continued following the six-month period. They welcomed the food vouchers which would do away with corruption and provide choice. Members recommenced sanitary pads and baby formula be included in the provision of social relief.

Members were vocal about the lack of communication by the DSD and SASSA to the public. They suggested partnering with the SABC to display a banner at the bottom of television screens with grant information and the use of loud hailers and community radio stations be utilised for people in rural areas. It was also heavily recommended that SASSA offices reopen to provide a point of contact for the public.

DSD clarified that the “express tender”, as dubbed by the media, to Kirinox was granted as the Department urgently needed food services and personal protective equipment given to homeless shelters. DSD was unable to pay the non-profit organisation (NPO) upfront as the process of obtaining money from the National Disaster Fund from the Reserve Bank is lengthy. They selected Kirinox as service provider as it had the capacity to do so from its own funds, they have a national footprint and could provide feedback to DSD. The Department had considered other NPOs such as the Gift of the Givers, however, it went with Kirinox.

Meeting report

The Chairperson assured South Africa that all spheres of government are working tirelessly to fight the plight which the virus has brought.

Minister opening remarks
Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, stated that the country is in this together. The government needs to do its best to serve the people of South Africa in these extraordinary times, which requires extraordinary action as well as the government being quick in its response.

The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) was formed which is tasked with coordinating all information at national level through all the sectors. All departments are represented at NATJOINTS. Then there is the National Command Centre Council (NCCC) chaired by the President. There are the Clusters which people are already familiar with such as the social cluster, the economic cluster and security cluster and so on. These clusters discuss all issues faced at NATJOINTS which is then fed into the NCCC. The deliberations at the NCCC are fed into Cabinet where decisions are made.

The Department of Social Development (DSD), along with the National Development Agency (NDA) and South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), has formed a sub-structure referred to as the ‘situation room’ or the ‘war room’ as it does an analysis of the war against Corona. They have created these seven work streams besides service delivery which ensures business continuity and uninterrupted services:
(1) Partnership and Donor Funding formalises partnerships and manages the database of organisations and individuals who partner and donate to the Department
(2) Provincial Co-ordination co-ordinates the work that needs to be carried out in provinces and provides feedback to the situation room
(3) Communication co-ordinates media communication
(4) Finance co-ordinates budgeting and financing in coordination with institutional processes
(5) Monitoring and Evaluation ensures that all DSD work is analyzed using relevant tools
(6) Social Protection provides an integrated response towards social response and disaster relief
(7) Social Security work stream.

The strategic leadership in the sector, Members of the Executive Council (MEC) and Premiers are to engage in intervening in some of the challenges. Everything that is decided needs to be adequately communicated to Provinces as they are the ones who perform all the implementation.

The Department was tasked with dealing with Regulation 6 and 7 of the Disaster Management Act. Regulation 6 refers to the shutting down of facilities such as Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres and walk-in centres and so forth as well as dealing with issues escalated from Provinces to the Situation Room for intervention. All SASSA and DSD offices have been closed.

A new Risk Adjusted Approach to COVID19 lockdown has been introduced in the move to ease the lockdown. DSD is looking at what areas need to be dealt with to ease the lockdown. Guidelines were given to Provinces on implementation requirements. Various media sources were informed on the change in SASSA payment dates. SASSA has engaged with banks and retailers not to charge beneficiaries interest on transactions made.

The Chairperson stated that the biggest challenge is implementation and doing so effectively. The second challenge is suffocating all conditions conducive for corruption. Corruption can affect all interventions made by government and efforts made by the public. To curb corruption, Ministers should know the geographic distribution of finances so that they can pick up if there is any suspicious activity in their constituencies.

Department of Social Development (DSD) presentation
Mr Peter Netshipale, DSD Deputy Director-General: Integrated Development, stated that 253 Community Nutrition and Development Centres (CNDC) were mobilised as the mode of feeding members of the public changed. CNDCs could no longer provide cooked meals but rather prepared food parcels for existing people utilising the CNDC. The Department has provided 90 163 out of a targeted 1 000 000 households with food parcels. There was a particular focus on child headed households.

The Department has received R23 500 million from the Solidarity Fund to provide food parcels to households. The Department added R20 million to this amount. CNDCs are being utilised as well as volunteers to distribute food parcels. Not all citizens will receive food parcels, only those that have been identified and determined to be in need.

Ms Conny Nxumalo, DSD Deputy Director-General: Welfare Services, stated that DSD is committed to providing psycho-social support specially to protect children and other vulnerable groups. The Wuhan repatriates were included into this group. Social workers have been counselling students that remain in countries affected my COVID19 and are unable to return to South Africa. They are providing training to 87 command staff and social workers. An additional 19 command staff are being trained as standby staff, should the current staff fall ill. DSD is working closely with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) to sustain the services for homeless people.

The Gender-Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC) has been inundated with calls; however, most calls do not pertain to GBV but rather food parcel queries and some prank calls. It is assumed that GBV has increased at this time; however, the statistics on this are limited. Institutions such as old age homes are in lockdown and precautionary measures are in place.

A directive has been created for the movement of children where parents have joint custody of children that stipulates that parents can travel with a child’s birth certificate when moving children from one household to the other. This however was hard to police and therefore, permit form 5 was designed to help police on this.

Ms Brenda Sibeko, DSD Deputy Director General: Social Security, stated that the Department expected poverty to worsen especially amongst people working in the informal sector who are not covered by Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). Thus, the work of DSD would increase exponentially in dealing with people that are newly vulnerable due to the lockdown. Homeless shelters were unable to deal with the influx of homeless people and this rapid influx was not budgeted for. Gift of the Givers and other NPOs as well as the Disaster Relief Fund are instrumental in providing this social relief.

The R350 Social Relief Grant announced by the President is aimed at helping adults that do not benefit from other grants. DSD wanted to give more than R350; however, there are already 18 million grant beneficiaries. Thus the budget could provide only R350 for the additional six to eight million new grant beneficiaries.

SASSA presentation
Ms Busisiwe Memela-Khambula, Chief Executive Officer of SASSA, stated that there was pandemonium in April when collecting grants despite all the planning. People showed up at payment stations on days that were not their designated date for collection, trying to receive their grant early.

All SASSA local offices will be closed during the lockdown period and the management of these offices must be part of the pay-point monitoring teams. Applications for the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant must now be done telephonically where they were previously done at a SASSA office in the presence of a designated officer. SRD interventions are being provided to shelters identified by the government.

NDA presentation
Ms Thamo Mzobe, NDA CEO, stated that the NDA has allocated an amount of R1.8 million to partner with 52 civil society organisations that provide ten volunteers each, amounting to 520 volunteers. The volunteers will be deployed to different functions such as distribution of food parcels and other necessities to the elderly and disabled in communities. The volunteers will distribute information pamphlets in local languages. The pamphlets will be sourced from official publications supplied by the Department of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. The NDA has assessed the provision of hot meals and determined that the capacity for government to do so is not enough.

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) stated that the KZN COVID-19 toll-free number and WhatsApp line do not work. When you call it, you reach a voicemail service stating that the mailbox is full. The WhatsApp line is switched off and no information comes through. She asked the Department if they were aware of this and what was being done to rectify it.

Ms van der Merwe said that councillors are charging R5 for deliveries of food parcels or diverting parcels to their home for distribution. Food parcels need to be distributed using another system. Going forward, will food parcels be standardised? This could limit corruption.

Ms van der Merwe stated that SASSA offices being closed has made it hard for people to find reliable information on COVID19 and instead they are falling victim to fake news being spread on WhatsApp broadcast messages. Thus SASSA offices should reopen. There was chaos at grant payment stations and people were not adhering to social distancing guidelines. What measures will be in place for the next payment date? She asked what the criteria are for the R350 Social Relief Grant.

The DSD and SASSA websites should have clear information about what forms are needed for the R350 grant application as well as partnering with SABC to have a constant thread at the bottom of the screen on the grant information.

How is DSD involved with the Strandfontein Homeless Centre? What oversight has DSD performed and what are their thoughts on this shelter? Sanitary pads are usually donated to women and young girls at CNDCs. However, now that CNDCs are not operating, what is DSD doing to provide vulnerable women with sanitary pads?

Ms B Masango (DA) said that it had come to her attention that some councillors were charging people R3 to fill in forms for social relief applications. She asked for the timeline for the new grant and when will the applications open.

According to the DSD presentation, 58 000 households received food parcels. How was this number determined? The move away from food parcels to e-vouchers is welcomed as this would curb corruption. What measures are being used to stop people from double dipping?

Ms D Ngwenya (EFF) stated that GBV has increased since the lockdown despite the GBV Command Centre not having the numbers. This matter should not be left at that, it needs to be researched. People are in their homes with their abusers, thus cannot make calls. How can these people alert authorities?

Cash transfers and e-vouchers were mentioned, how will people apply for these and what are the time frames?

Many homeless people struggle with drug addiction. Do they have medical access in homeless shelters when experiencing withdrawal symptoms? Is there a post-lockdown plan for continued rehabilitation of these people?

What progress has DSD made in registering new births as new mothers are unable to register their babies for grants? The Social Relief Grant is welcomed; however, it should go beyond six months. What is being done for children that are dependent on nutrition programmes at schools now that Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes are closed?

Ms A Abrahams (DA) stated that there is a need for updated data in the presentation as some slides refer to data relevant up to 1 April 2020 whereas the date is currently 23 April 2020. According to slide 10, Mpumalanga and Limpopo have not given their staff Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), why is this? Some provinces have reached only a little over 100 households with food parcels, this is unacceptable. It would thus be beneficial for the MECs of each province to join the next Committee meeting to account for what is happening in their province as they are responsible for implementation.

She agreed that COVID19 social relief will be needed for longer than six months as the effects of the virus and lockdown will be felt for subsequent months. The Social Income Grant has been recommended by committees since 2013 and again in 2018, what is the DSD response to these recommendations in wake of this pandemic?

Security personnel are arresting people that are volunteering by providing cooked meals. What is being done about this? People showed up at pay points on days other than their allocated date, how are people notified that their grants will not be available other than on the day they were told to collect? How is the lockdown affecting the foster care backlog? Communication channels between the Committee and DSD need to improve as the Members of the Committee are expected to have reliable information that they can convey to the public.

Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) said that he hopes the next SASSA payment date will not be chaotic. He asked what measures are in place to ensure the May payments will run smoothly. He echoed the need for further research on GBV in lockdown. The fight against GBV does not end just because the country is under lockdown. Post-lockdown, homeless people need continued support.

Mr R Mackenzie (DA; Western Cape) stated that the money set aside for food parcels will be insufficient as much of it will go to operational costs such as transport and security. Thus, food vouchers are a better option. He agreed that SASSA offices need to reopen to end fake news.

If there is a 10% achievement of the 1 million households target, how will DSD manage? Girls that received sanitary wear from initiatives carried out at school need to be provided with sanitary wear in lockdown.

Ms T Mphambo-Sibhukwana (DA) asked if families accommodated in temporary shelters will still have this support post-lockdown, especially for children. How is the quality of food being assessed? It has been reported that some food parcels were outdated. She asked what the criteria are for the R350 Social Relief Grant.

Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) welcomed the idea of food vouchers. What mechanisms are in place for delivery of food parcels and other assistance? There is a lack of oversight especially in places such as the Northern Cape, how is DSD ensuring that people needing assistance in these areas are getting it?

Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo) stated that everyone within the South African border requires government assistance regardless of their country of origin. We need to share our resources with them and ensure nobody goes hungry. People who are inflating the prices of goods need to feel the full wrath of the law.

Ms M Suckers (ACDP) said that the picture on the ground is fragmented. There are a number of lessons to be learnt. There is a clear bottom up strategy but there needs to be a top down strategy as well. There needs to be joint oversight in different provinces to oversee the implantation of the interventions of DSD.

She asked that SASSA please indicate what scale-up of operations is occurring other than the call centres adding additional lines. There is a huge number of fraud cases being reported. What monitoring and evaluation protocols are being carried out in provinces? What is the distribution model, who does it and who are the implementing agents?

The SASSA offices need to be opened. People do not know where to turn for information. There needs to be a strategy to improve communications with the public as well as to Members of the Committee as they are public representatives and are expected to have answers.

The missing middle and self-employed people also need assistance. There has been a call by this group for electricity and food. What engagements are being made with banks to further reprieve and relieve the burden of debt?

Mr D Stock (ANC) asked what the NDA is doing to see that people can actively participate in the redevelopment of the economy post-lockdown, so there is a creation of jobs and streamlining of economic development. Corruption is being heavily reported on social media. An incident of a R50 million procurement given to an organisation was posted on Honorable Bantu Holomisa’s social media where he had written to the President to attend to the issue. He is unsure if this alleged corruption is indeed true. He asked DSD to please clarify the matter.

Ms L Arries (EFF) said that it is sad that it took COVID19 to open the country's eyes to the poverty faced by many. The EFF pushed for the increase of social grants and now we see how much this is actually needed. In the Karoo, 1 797 food parcels have been distributed. These food parcels go from Cape Town to George and then are delivered to the Karoo. Why is the procurement not done in the area? She asked for a list of NGOS providing food and PPE.

The social grants need to be continued post-pandemic. Looting of shops is evidence of how desperate people are. The issue of the Strandfontein Homeless Shelter is urgent. There is lack of DSD capacity in the Southern Cape Region of George and this needs to be looked at. SASSA needs to be open so food parcels are not being distributed by councillors. SASSA has better capacity to do these deliveries as they also have vehicles. Alternatively, food distribution centres can be established in malls across South Africa.

Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KZN) asked how effective DSD communication is for people in rural areas. Perhaps loud hailing and community radios can be utilised. She agreed that SASSA offices need to be reopened.

Ms J Manganye (ANC) asked how people are identified for food parcels if they are not on the SASSA system. She reported that people around her residential area which is a rural mining area in Brits are roaming the streets trying to find a means to get food. These people need to be targeted and assisted. It seems that the homeless people taken to shelters were identified in the big cities and not so much in small cities as she has seen homeless people around her small city roaming the streets. May DSD provide the Committee with the contact details of people in each district responsible for homeless shelters so that Members can communicate with them directly rather than wait for these meetings to deal with challenge?

Mr G Hendricks (Al Jama-ah) said that people on the Cape Flats are looting and rioting. Activists are making meals for people out of their own pockets and some have been jailed for doing this by breaking the lockdown guidelines. However, these rules need to be relaxed for people providing assistance to communities.

Ms A Motaung (ANC) asked DSD to provide clarity on the turnaround time for calls to the SASSA hotline. Many communities are disadvantaged due to high levels of unemployment. SASSA offices need to be reopened.

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked what measures will be taken against vendors who have provided expired food to people. She noted the case in Butterworth, Eastern Cape. She agreed that SASSA needs to communicate all information on all community radio stations.

Ms M Gillion (Western Cape) asked about monitoring and evaluation for local municipalities not implementing the measures for homeless people. She emphasised that playing politics needs to end. Thus, every MEC and MP need to do their oversight role. DSD and the Department of Basic Education need to give a coherent message on school feeding schemes. DSD needs to look into providing baby formula for mothers and caregivers of infants.

DSD responses
Ms Nxumalo, DSD, replied the lockdown homeless shelters are issued with medical help for persons with addiction. All shelters are encouraged to send people to hospital when experiencing withdrawals. DSD is in the progress of creating norms and standards to guide municipalities in running these facilities correctly in a uniform fashion. DSD is aware of the Strandfontein homeless shelter and the Western Cape government has been contacted on this. GBV and human rights issues need to be dealt with in these facilities.

The Foster Care court deadline will confront DSD later. Children courts are open; however, social workers on the ground need to assist with ensuring these cases are extended. All Heads of Departments in the provinces have received communication to continue with the foster care process.

Although there are no finalised statistics for GBV in the lockdown period, this does not mean it is not happening. DSD has engaged with civil society on this and this has influenced the development of an app that is linked to the GBVCC. A mobile phone is the only access people have to the outside world while in lockdown. This is the only current intervention.

Ms Sibeko, DSD, replied that people who work in, informal or precarious work are unable to make an income due to the lockdown. This income is usually used in conjunction with a grant, most often the Child Support Grant, to sustain households. Thus, the Child Support Grant has an additional R300 added for one month only thereafter each child caregiver will be given R500 per month to supplement the household expenses which they would have covered through informal labour.

The criteria for the Social Relief of Distress Grant is targeted at people who have no income, do not receive any other grant, do not benefit from UIF or NSFAS. SASSA is working with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to determine people that do have some income and ensuring that they are excluded from the grant to prevent inclusion errors. Excluding people from the grant who are in a household with other people that do receive an income is challenging and this will result in an inclusion error in this regard.

The missing middle is indeed a challenge; however, these people are able to benefit from UIF. Basic Income Grant proposal stated that everyone in South Africa should have some form of income but financing this was the biggest challenge. Thus, vulnerable groups were prioritised as the fiscus was able to fund these grants. There are inclusion issues as it seems that people who have higher incomes do not benefit as much as lower income people. DSD recognises this as well as the need for the grant to be continued beyond the six months as stipulated however, DSD will create interventions not necessarily through the provision of funds but through skills training, cooperatives and job creation initiatives after the six month period.

Homeless people were spread across the country, however, many municipalities did not have the capacity for the sudden need to provide shelter for a large number of homeless people as well as food and PPE provision. DSD was in desperate need for standardised provision of food and PPE in homeless shelters across South Africa and thus it utilised a non-profit organisation (NPO), Kirinox, as it has a national footprint and could provide adequate feedback to DSD. DSD was unable to pay the NPO upfront as the process of obtaining money from the National Disaster Fund from the Reserve Bank is lengthy. Thus the NPO had to have its own funds and procurement capacity. DSD considered other NPOs such as the Gift of the Givers, however, it went with Kirinox. The Minister did say that the Department rushed the appointment of the NPO.

Mr Netshipale, DSD, replied that food security interventions have come from many agencies from provinces, donors and local government. This presents many challenges with how to monitor implementation. There is a system of targeted people that were already utilising CNDCs. There were approximately 250 people eating at each of the 235 Community Nutrition and Development Centres (CNDC) per day. This totals 58 750 households. These were listed, profiled and are in a database. DSD is not using their own friends to deliver food parcels. The 235 CNDCs and nine food distribution centres across the provinces assist in delivering food to people. In addition, there are 520 NDA volunteers to help distribute food parcels. These are standardised food parcels according to the Social Assistance Act. The need in each province is different, thus in local areas it may differ. If food items are rotten in food parcels, it must be reported.

SASSA responses
Ms Memela-Khambula, SASSA CEO, replied that it is not her call to reopen SASSA offices as this was a Presidential instruction. There needs to be alternative arrangements for people to access information. SASSA is in the process of slowly opening offices with the managerial staff back in SASSA offices. However, local offices are still not open and there is no indication yet of when they will open.

Community leaders help with applications for grants however, people can apply at their own capacity. SASSA has undergone a procurement process for service providers that will provide the SRD grant in such a way that social distancing measures can be adhered to.

Registration for child births is done at hospitals where they are provided with birth certificates. The birth certificates are brought to a SASSA office when applying for a grant; however, SASSA is working on automating this process in the future.

Ms Dianne Dunkerley, SASSA Executive Manager: Grants Administration, replied that SASSA has built a front end that will allow for applications to be done via WhatsApp and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platforms for the SRD grant. The WhatsApp/USSD application will the go to SASSA where they will accept or reject the application. This process is being tested and once approved, the application process will be made known to the public. SASSA is working on the backend of the platform that will allow them the transfer money to the beneficiaries using a bank account, e-wallet or cash-send kind of mechanism so that they can stop the food parcels. It will be an effective way to get money to people where they can exercise their choice on how they want to spend their money. This will be the same process utilised for the R350 grant. Thus the application will not need physical forms to be filled in. The digital platform will also give applicants the ability to choose whether they are applying for the grant themselves or doing so on behalf of a person for those who do not have a phone or are not comfortable using one. The Social Assistance Act states that SASSA is able to provide relief only to South African citizens, permanent residents and to documented refugees. Thus, relief to foreign people in South Africa is limited and other organisations need to provide this relief as SASSA is unable to.

The Chairperson stated that monitoring and evaluation of these interventions are not optional even despite the difficulty of the circumstances. He emphasised that there needs to be a clear means and criteria for food parcels. What are the processes from the food bank to the people? That process needs to be defined as Members will not be able to perform oversight.

Minister's response
Minister Zulu stated that the departments are going through the Risk Adjusted Approach to COVID19. She appealed to DSD, NDA and SASSA to analyze their respective services to find what needs to be eased and what should not be eased using the Risk Adjusted Approach. Opening the SASSA offices will need to be done with the approval of other departments such as Health and Police. This matter will be taken to NETJOINTS and NCCC for consideration. COVID19 is a moving target and thus DSD will have to find a way to adequately communicate more and more to the Members of the Committee. DSD will clarify the criteria and further guidelines for the SRD grant with the public. DSD must not lose sight of who they are and what services they provide regardless of COVID19. Other services such as for children and orphanages still need to be adequately provided for; otherwise when COVID19 is over, these services will be a new great problem.

Closing remarks
Ms Gillion, Co-Chairperson, thanked everyone and applauded them for their efforts at this time. She assured the country that the Committee wants to bring the necessary relief to the people on the ground. She asked the public to continue to adhere to government instructions and the lockdown.

The Chairperson emphasised the need for monitoring and evaluation regardless of how difficult the circumstances may be.

Meeting adjourned.


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