Lapsed temporary disability grants, reapplications, overcrowding at SASSA offices: with Minister

Social Development

20 January 2021
Chairperson: Mr M Gungubele (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Social Development, 20 January 2021

The Committee met on a virtual platform for a briefing by the Minister of Social Development, the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) on the challenges about temporary disability grants, reapplications and overcrowding at SASSA offices.

The Minister explained that Department had been working with other departments because the ultimate challenge, with or without Covid-19, remained poverty, unemployment, inequality and easy to access, properly planned government services. She and her team had been visiting sites across the country, even though they feared catching the virus. The Minister pointed out that the consideration of the dignity of people was central to her approach. She responded to the misperception of the Minister getting into the Casspir at the Bellville offices and the suggestion that she was not in touch with the people. The first thing that she had done in Bellville was to speak to the people in the queue at the SASSA offices and ask them to maintain social distancing. She had only climbed into the Casspir to use its loud hailer because DSD did not have a loud hailer. The Minister was adamant that her intention in getting into the Casspir was to use its equipment. She was not running away from the people. She had dealt with the people and then, while she was in the SASSA office for a meeting and a press conference, the police had sprayed the people with water from the water cannon. It was she who had the told the police to stop because she did not think that it was a good thing to do. She was clarifying, publicly, that she would never ask the police to spray vulnerable people, people in wheelchairs and children. She could not do that.

SASSA officials stated that the agency would reinstate the grants for the most vulnerable categories of temporary disability grant (TDG) clients:
- Those who are 59 years old: 9 295
- Those receiving TDG and grant in aid: 6 079
- Those receiving TDG through procurator: 577
- Those receiving TDG through administrator: 73
Total for reinstatement : 16 024 of 214648

Limited Social Relief of Distress (SRD) would be provided within budget to TDG clients who apply while they are waiting for an assessment at R500 per month per person for maximum of 2 months on approved applications for an estimated 150 000 clients: R150 million of R190 million budget available. Balance to be reserved for responses to disasters. SRD to be reserved for those affected by lapsed TDGs only.

SASSA explained that it had not had access to community halls in Cape Town since the start of the pandemic and had been offering services to all their clients in the area though 11 SASSA offices. An agreement had recently been signed with the City of Cape Town and SASSA would be servicing clients through 93 community halls in addition to the 11 offices. That would relieve the pressure.

Short term interventions by SASSA included more communication, especially via radio stations, the use of mobile offices and strengthening its call centre. SASSA would be extending the number of contracted doctors and would place application forms on its website or mail them to clients. SASSA had approached the Cape Town municipality to open community halls. It was strengthening its work with organisations, had alerted the Appeal Tribunal to an additional number of appeals following the rejection of many applications and would provide weekly progress reports.

SASSA would conduct an investigation into the very high number of temporary disability grants in the Western Cape by checking doctor assessments and strengthening those assessments. SASSA had recently appointed 33 doctors in the Western Cape to assist in examining those who were applying for temporary disability benefits. That would increase the number of contracted doctors in the Western Cape from nine to 42 doctors. Currently, there were 80 contracted doctors in the Northern Cape and 134 in KwaZulu-Natal.

While acknowledging the hard work done by officials in SASSA, Committee members had numerous questions. On the police spraying SASSA's vulnerable clients with a water cannon for not observing social distancing, Members asked if the Minister believed that was appropriate. If not, why had she not intervened and, if she had, had she subsequently spoken to the Minister of Police? Had DSD engaged with the police on that inhuman act? What had been the outcome of the intervention? The Committee requested a comprehensive plan to eliminate queues of clients. Could the Committee be given a plan that would show how clients would be given a new experience in 2021?

Members asked if the decision makers in DSD and SASSA had seen the crisis emerging when more than 200 000 grants were terminated at the end of December 2020. Why had the agency failed to act? If the crisis had not been foreseen, why not? Why had the Minister not extended the grant under the current extension of the National Disaster Act? How many people had fallen off SASSA’s register?

Members asked about the SASSA communication strategy. Why was there no meaningful communication on the SASSA website? The call centres were not functional and emails were not replied to. SASSA should consider using SMS to communicate. How were the 16 000 59-year olds on the temporary disability grants going to be informed of the process of reinstating their grants? Why, when able-bodied young people received grants, were they not being used to spread messages? Why were those young people who received government money not being used to drive the message of specific grant days, social distancing and so on. Were volunteers being engaged in all provinces? How many doctors were contracted to SASSA per province? How many mobile units would be used and where were they located? Looking at the numbers per province and the target number to be reviewed by 31 March 2021, meant that the doctors in the Western Cape would have to assess 1 052 people per day. Was that a workable plan?

The Minister agreed to submit a comprehensive plan of action to the Committee within two weeks.

Meeting report

Opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed Minister Zulu and her team. He noted that the pandemic remained as an unwelcome visitor. It had worsened and there had been approximately 20 000 new cases each day for the past few days. The figures seemed to be levelling off and he hoped they would continue to do so. For the social sector, and the Department of Social Development in particular, the pandemic continued to present challenges, especially if one considered the social infrastructure, poverty, the state of the economy and the unemployed. There was an increasing number of people whose income streams had gone to zero, accompanied by thousands of businesses that had had to close. This made the situation in the social sector even worse.

The Chairperson explained that, after observing people having difficulties in accessing the temporary disability grant, in particular as it found expression in the Western Cape, some Members had requested that the Committee meet. That, aligned with the problems already there, had caused the Committee to meet. As the Committee was the oversight side of the sector, the important thing was for all to see things from the same perspective for work in that sector to happen. It was in that context that the Committee and DSD were meeting, that is, to find a common perspective.

He added that Members had seen the people queuing in numbers and the lack of dignity in their situation and they had seen the Minister intervening.

Briefing by Minister of Social Development
Minister Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, thanked the Chairperson for his incisive introductory remarks because she and the DSD and SASSA team were there as it was important to be able to work together: for Parliament to carry out oversight and for herself, DSD and its agencies to come and account for the work that they were doing under very difficult circumstances – although the circumstances for the people were even worse, as she and her team had seen when they were visiting sites across the country. The bottom line was that somebody had to do the job; somebody had to the work. She and DSD had been going to the hot spots to find out what government had to do, even though they feared catching the virus.

The Minister noted that in the Chairperson’s opening remarks, he had talked about the condition of their people, the unemployment and inequality of their people as well as the revenue stream that had gone down to zero. The Minister explained that DSD had been working with other departments because the ultimate challenge, with or without Covid, remained poverty, unemployment, inequality and easy access, properly planned services of government. As the Ministry, DSD, SASSA and the National Development Agency (NDA), theirs was to focus on their mandate and to bring their services closer to the people.

The Minister told everyone in the meeting that the social sector was in a very difficult position, but from what she had seen out there, she was not starting from a negative perspective. Her starting point was that the work had to be done, and it had to be done much better than in the past three years since she had taken office.

She thanked the Committee who had seen it fit to request a presentation from the Ministry, DSD and its entities. The Chairperson’s letter inviting her and her team to the meeting was very decisive and unambiguous as it directed her to exactly what she, as the Minister of SASSA, had seen on her oversight visits.

Three specific requests emerged from the letter. DSD and SASSA needed to immediately implement measures and initiatives addressing the challenges caused by the lapsing of the 210 778 temporary disability grants. SASA should also ensure that it upheld the dignity of beneficiaries. When the Minister started in the position in Social Development, she went on record saying that she was grateful for the base created by previous Ministers in building that house (of social grants), but she also wanted their clients to live in that house with dignity. From the beginning, she had indicated that she wanted DSD and SASSA to make it easier for people to access the service, which meant looking after the dignity of the people. Considering the dignity of people was central to her approach.

In the Western Cape, when she had gone to the SASSA offices in the Cape Town city centre and in Bellville, it was not just to look at what SASSA was doing, but she was looking at the individual people in the queues. When she saw people in queues, she could see that their concerns were not just about the social grant, but about their well-being in general. Whilst she was mingling with the people, they had shouted at her about what she and her team could do for those people about transport.

The third point in the Chairperson’s letter was the need to ensure that SASSA complied with Covid-19 regulations at its offices and pay points. In particular, the letter was about the incidents that happened in Bellville, Masiphumelele, Khayelitsha and other areas that she had visited.

In the Minister’s view, those were three issues that DSD and SASSA should respond to. The Minister had instructed SASSA to focus the presentation on those issues so that there were no fancy presentations that did not address the issues. The presentation had to respond to the context. She had also instructed them to respond to the three dimensions by specifying the observable challenges they had experienced and by providing the demographic figures of the affected population at regional, district and municipal levels. DSD and SASSA were requested to specify the public partnership investments as without those the identified challenges would be undone. They had been asked to specify applicable timeframes and project the relevant outcomes and impact. The Committee had frequently stated that consideration had to be given to impact, impact, impact!

Temporary disability grants were the primary and only income for people with disabilities and it was on those grants that their social dignity was founded, households provided for and medical supplies afforded. DSD and SASSA were well aware that each approval of a temporary disability grant lapsed six months from the date of approval. She stated that intelligence and data should be used to inform resource allocations and DSD should forthwith activate the harmonised assessment tool for disabilities that had been designed in 2014. She had not been in her position in 2014, but the disability tool had been raised in the Committee and the Deputy Minister of Social Development, Ms Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu, had insisted on DSD using the tool. The tool would relieve the immeasurable burdens being exerted on the system by the growing applications for temporary disability grants.

The Covid-19 pandemic had drawn greater attention to the inequality of health and economic accessibility of the people of the country. The recipients of the social grants represented those who lived in poverty and were the most vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19. Her assessment of the SASSA pay points over the past two weeks strongly suggested that better measures could be put in place to protect that population from Covid-19 when they were at the SASSA offices receiving services.

The Minister referred to a few particular measures that SASSA could put in place in response to the Portfolio Committee’s request. Firstly, SASSA should target the strengths that accompany the District Development Model (DDM). The President had launched the DDM and he wanted Ministers and officials to put on their thinking caps on how that model could be effective at all levels of government. In addition, most of the beneficiaries were religious and there was at least one place of worship in each and every community that SASSA could utilise. Under the conditions of the Covid-19 Regulations, SASSA could, and should, develop socially innovative partnerships with community-based places of worship and faith-based organisations as well as even using school halls. SASSA would explain what had happened in Bellville and why it had been unable to use the normal service centres.

Department of Social Development and SASSA briefing
Mr Linton Mchunu, DSD Acting Director-General, stated that one could not overstate the impact of the pandemic on the country and, more specifically, the vulnerable, the elderly, children and persons with disabilities. The pandemic had impacted on the economy which exacerbated the challenges faced by his Department, especially poverty, inequality and unemployment. It was important to highlight that SASSA had experienced a surge in requests for services during the pandemic, especially for temporary disability grants and hence the long queues at the offices, as witnessed in the Western Cape the previous week, and in other offices. That highlighted the extreme levels of poverty in the country and the crux of the challenge.

Mr Mchunu stated that one could not have the elderly waking up in the early hours of the morning to join long queues to apply for grants. There was no dignity in that and DSD had to improve and make access to services much easier and quicker. The pandemic had shown how swiftly DSD should be able to respond to shocks and how critical it was to use technology to improve engagements with the public. DSD had a good case in the management of the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant where 100% of all applicants had applied digitally and no one had needed to stand in a queue to apply for the grant.

The DG reminded Members that DSD had pledged to the Committee to digitise systems to improve its services, and that had begun. At the heart of some of the challenges was the effectiveness of some of the systems and processes. DSD wanted its customer experience to be a good one. It wanted clients to say that they had been looked after well and had been treated with dignity. He wanted to assure clients that they should have confidence in DSD’s systems.

The presentation was intended to highlight the short and long-term measures put in place to improve the system, particularly the temporary disability grant, especially in the Western Cape. Three things should be highlighted: The need to automate systems and be more agile in response to the needs of the clients (the plans had been put in place for this); the need to give assurance to the clients and a commitment to consider their dignity; the need to utilise communications to reach all clients and to educate them about services.

SASSA CEO, Ms Busisiwe Memela, noted that Ms Dianne Dunkerley would present the majority of the presentation. Regional executives were in the room to respond to questions about specifics in a region.

When 2020 started, the team was working on four-year plans and did not realise that the country would be hit by a pandemic and all plans would be thrown into disarray. Technology was central to the plans to improve SASSA services. The past year had been the most challenging period since the advent of democracy, with the country involved in a fight against two major pandemics: the economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

SASSA was a key stakeholder to implement some of the critical socio-economic relief measures announced by the President. In addition to the payment of the normal social grants, SASSA implemented the top-up of existing grants; the special COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) Grant from May 2020 to the end of January 2021; and the extension of the validity of temporary disability and care dependency grants to 31 December 2020. In addition, it assisted in areas affected by disasters, such as wild fires and floods.

The CEO explained that the clients had been advised that temporary grants would end in December 2020.
She apologised to clients in Bellville, explaining that a Covid-19 event in the Bellville office on Tuesday meant that the clients who usually came on a Tuesday had to come on Friday with the Temporary Disability Grant beneficiaries.

She expressed deep sadness about what had happened in Durban on 19 January 2021 where a death had occurred. She explained that some criminals joined the queue and then took advantage of the vulnerable people. The Post Office had instigated an investigation into the incident.

Ms Dianne Dunkerley, SASSA Executive Manager: Grants Administration, began by presenting the SASSA budget to give the Committee an understanding of the implications of relief measures on the budget. The 2020/21 allocation for social grants was R172bn; additional funds for Covid-19 relief packages totalled R48.2bn, i.e. a total package for distribution of R220.6bn. The envisaged expenditure was R220.1bn.

Ms Dunkerley explained how the projected saving of R411 million would be spent. R190 million was needed to cover the disasters in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and other areas. SASSA also needed to retain funds for future disasters.

Ms Dunkerley clarified the purpose of the temporary disability grant. It was a medical model and not a social model for a functional disability in a person who was unable to work for six to twelve months. It was not for chronic disability and, in terms of the Social Development Act, it could not be reviewed after the initial period. It lapsed and grant holders had to re-apply, if necessary.

In addressing the long queues at SASSA offices in the Western Cape, Ms Dunkerley explained that the closing of municipal halls during the pandemic had led to clients who were usually paid in those venues, having to go to one of the service centres in the greater Cape Town area.

In response to the temporary disability grants (TDG) crisis, SASSA would reinstate the most vulnerable categories of TDG clients:
- Those who are 59 years old: 9 295
- Those receiving TDG and grant in aid: 6 079
- Those receiving TDG through procurator: 577
- Those receiving TDG through administrator: 73
Total for reinstatement : 16 024 of 214648

Limited Social Relief of Distress (SRD) would be provided within budget to TDG clients who apply while they are waiting for an assessment at R500 per month per person for maximum of 2 months on approved applications for an estimated 150 000 clients: R150 million of R190 million budget available. Balance to be reserved for responses to disasters. SRD to be reserved for those affected by lapsed TDGs only.

Short term interventions by SASSA included:
- more communication, especially via radio stations
- the use of mobile offices
- strengthening the call centre
- extending contracts for doctors
- approaching COGTA and the Cape Town municipality to open community halls
- placing application forms on websites or mailing them to clients
- strengthening its work with NGOs
- weekly progress reports
- alerting the Appeal Tribunal to an additional number of appeals following rejections.

SASSA would also conduct an investigation into the very high number of temporary disability grants in the Western Cape by checking doctor assessments and strengthening those assessments.

The Chairperson noted that information on the context, customer experience, challenges, interventions and recommendations had been put before the Committee.

The Minister informed the Committee that she would ask DSD and SASSA to come back to the Committee with a presentation on timeframes as the current plan did not contain those details. The perspective should change from looking at disability only through the lens of a doctor. There had to be another way to determine if people had temporary disabilities. That was one of the areas of work which might need legislative changes.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister, noting that she was addressing the high level, bigger perspective of the social assistance security net. She was calling on Members to deal with the bigger perspective of managing social support.

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) acknowledged the severe pressure on DSD and SASSA due to Covid-19 hardships. She thanked them for the work that they continued to do, but it was regrettable that the Committee had to call a special meeting because SASSA was once again in crisis mode. There had been crises over the years and, in 2021, the Committee was seeing another self-made crisis. She appealed to the Minister and the CEO – the Committee would like to get to a point where SASSA moved away from the perpetual crisis mode in which it found itself.

She asked the Minister about the incident in Bellville the previous Friday. She understood that those people had not adhered to social distancing protocols, but they were the Minister’s clients and they were suffering from various illnesses. One person had even fallen out of her wheelchair in the wet conditions. Did the Minister believe that spraying the vulnerable with water cannons was appropriate? Did it carry her blessing? If not, why did she not intervene and, if she had, had she subsequently spoken to Minister of Police. It was a regrettable incident.

Ms van der Merwe stated that she had visited the Bellville office the previous day and early that morning. The queues were still around the block, down the street and across the road. There was no social distancing at all. People were in desperate in need of help. That meant the interventions presented by SASSA had not yet helped.

On the war on queues, she was glad that the CEO had spoken of the incident in the SASSA queue in Durban the previous day where someone had been shot. Prior to lockdown, Members had been concerned when old people died in long queues. SASSA and DSD needed to get to a point where the problem of queues could be solved. She wanted a comprehensive plan to eliminate queues of clients.

Ms van der Merwe said she had an important point to make. Social media spoke of calls centres and the strengthening of call centres. That morning, as well as the previous day, she had phoned all the call centres. The national call centre simply cut out and she had been unable to speak to anyone. She had phoned the provincial call centres. In the Eastern Cape, the call to both offices failed. The call was answered by the Free State office but after being asked to hold and waiting seven minutes, she had hung up. A voice machine answered her call to the Limpopo office and when phoning the Gauteng office, a voice message stated that the number did not exist, and so on. She had tried to put herself in the position of a vulnerable citizen or an elderly person or a disabled person and she had been unable to reach any person. When SASSA listed interventions, the call centres could not be deemed an intervention as they were not functioning. When call centres were not working, people had to go to the SASSA offices. SASSA should point her to any one call centre where she could get telephonic help.

Ms van der Merwe turned her attention to the social media which SASSA had said it was using. On the current SASSA FaceBook page, there was no information on how clients could renew temporary disability grants. Where was SASSA communicating? On which social media pages? There was definitely not full communication on the SASSA website. It did not immediately indicate what temporary disability grant clients should do to extend their grants. If SASSA could roll out the R350 grants so quickly, it should be able to improve communication platforms.

Regarding the volunteers to assist with queue management and to promote compliance with personal protection measures, Ms van der Merwe had yet to see such volunteers utilised at a SASSA office. Where could she find them?

On the additional budget for doctors, she asked how many doctors were contracted to SASSA per province. She was concerned because it seemed that they had a mammoth task with the applications for temporary disability grants. How did clients get a booking date at a SASSA office if the phones did not work? How many SASSA mobile units would be activated per province?

Ms van der Merwe agreed that the reviewing of the legislation was essential so that other health professionals could also assess disability cases. That process had to be expedited. Looking at the slide on the number of clients per province and the target number to be reviewed by 31 March 2021, it would mean that the doctors in the Western Cape would have to assess 1 052 people per day. Was that a workable plan? To her, it seemed unachievable.

Ms L Arries (EFF) said that the country was facing an humanitarian crisis. At the beginning of 2021, Members had wished one another a happy new year but vulnerable and sick people were sleeping on the streets.

She raised the water cannons in Bellville and asked if DSD had called the police. Had DSD engaged with the police on that inhuman act? What had been the outcome of the intervention? SASSA's failure to have a queuing system in place had resulted in the chaos seen in Bellville. The need to solve the queuing problem was long overdue. The problem of people sleeping outside SASSA offices had existed even before Covid-19. What had happened to the queue marshals who were supposed to enforce social distancing? What relief plans were there for the unemployed who had lost their jobs during Covid-19? Was there a plan to deal with that?

She pointed out that when people went to apply for SASSA grants, SASSA did not have doctors or appointments available. In George, there was only one clinic that had one doctor to do all the assessments for temporary disabilities. Why could doctors not be appointed to assist SASSA on a permanent basis?

Ms Arries reported that people said they had not received a letter from SASSA on the termination of the temporary disability grants. Despite all the electronic interventions, there were people who did not have access to technology, so why not go back to old ways, such as the use of loud hailers in a village?

There was a huge need for a basic income grant. On a daily basis people were sitting at SASSA offices and the Post Office, hoping to get the grants. What measures could be put in place to prevent queues? Could the Minister give an indication of when the basic income grant would be implemented?

Ms A Abrahams (DA) pointed out that she would be repeating some matters because they were important.

The Chairperson requested Members not to repeat questions. It was necessary to manage their time well.

Ms Abrahams reiterated that there was no excuse, no rationale nor any excuse for the use of the water cannons on defenceless and vulnerable poor people and children. She asked for a copy of the Western Cape SAPS (SA Police Service) report.

She noted that there were three pandemics, not two, as one had to include the Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) cases against women because one should never turn away from GBV in the country. All signs had indicated danger ahead, so it should not be a surprise. SASSA should have had time to extend the disability grant but it had been busy with the R350 grant. That grant was coming to an end on 31 January 2021 and she was interested in how that would be handled.

Ms Abrahams stated that she had that morning received a call from a client who had told her that her grant had been “filed”. What did ‘filed” mean?

She saw SASSA officials who were passionate about serving their clients on a daily basis and they had seen this coming. Had the decision makers in DSD and SASSA also seen it coming, but had failed to act? Another serious problem was the number of acting positions in SASSA. It was a capacity problem that had not been addressed. Instead, there had been an organisational redesign following which the Western Cape had to report to the Eastern Cape regional offices. That had stripped the province of its decision-making powers.

Ms Abrahams had been on the SASSA website and she could not find the temporary disability grant application form. Where was it? Could Members be given a link to it? She had registered with the SASSA online system so that she could help other people and when she went into the applications, the process stopped at the point where she was to receive a form. Was the system still in a pilot phase? Should it be working? Another question was why initial appointments could not be made online so that clients only went into the office for verification in person. Despite clients not having technology, clients in the Mitchells Plain queues that she had spoken to had said that they would make a plan to access forms via electronic media. She referred to an media article that a 55-year old woman had died in a queue in Grabouw the previous day.

Ms Abrahams asked Ms Dunkerley for a list of the names of people who would have their temporary disability grant extended. How would SASSA communicate information about the SRD grant that would replace the temporary disability grants? How would the other people be assessed for the grant? Even if the number of Western Cape doctors contracted to SASSA were to be increased by an additional 33 doctors, the resulting 42 doctors would still be insufficient for the need. They would have too many clients to get swift results. In reply to a question in Parliament (26 June 2020, Question No 1390), the Minister had said that there would an additional 475 doctors appointed across the country. In a media briefing on 13 July 2020, the Minister had said that an additional 465 doctors were to be appointed. Were those 465 doctors additional to the 475 doctors? How were they to be distributed as currently the Western Cape had only nine doctors working for SASSA in the entire province. The Northern Cape had 80 doctors and KwaZulu-Natal had 134 doctors. Would other doctors be coming to the Western Cape to assist?

Ms Abrahams pointed out that the problem with community halls was not a lack of access. SASSA had dropped the ball in the booking of the community halls. She knew that because on 14 June 2020 she had written to the Minister, and copied in the CEO, requesting intervention for halls to be opened.

Ms Abrahams believed that the Minister should consider extending the grants to preserve the dignity of people and to avoid super-spreading of Covid-19. Taxpayers were faced with another hike in taxes as government’s purses were empty because of corruption. She suggested that DSD and National Treasury should start looking at the SAA money because it was shameful that “chicken and beef” was flying in the sky while people were starving on the ground.

Ms T Breedt (FF+) believed that SASSA had enormous task at hand and she commended Ms Dunkerley but the short term interventions were after the fact. The meeting was talking about limiting the discomfort to temporary disability clients but it was too little, too late. It was almost the end of January and plans were only then being made. She wanted to see a sense of urgency. Before a grant lapsed, DSD had to have a back-up plan or an intervention ready.

She was repeating what fellow Members had said but it had to be drummed home. She gave examples of problems in the system outside of the Western Cape. She had received specific complaints about the Germiston office in Gauteng, the Brits office in North West and the Bloemfontein office in the Free State. The CEO had said that as soon as one entered a SASSA office, one would be given a referral letter or it would be mailed to the person. A lady in Gauteng went to the service centre every day for two weeks to get a referral letter for her doctor to complete. She had co-morbidities and she spent the last of her December grant on transport. She was 59 years old. How were the 16 000 59-year-olds going to be informed of the new process?

Ms Breedt recalled that during a meeting the previous year, the Committee had spoken of the Social Assistance Act and the archaic methods of communicating. SASSA should consider sending SMSes as the many older clients were not proficient in social media. Not only was it a fact that the call centres were not working, but the email address for SASSA was not working. A lady in Brits with severe co-morbidities had phoned and emailed repeatedly but had received no response. She feared for her life if she were to stand in a queue, so how was the service going to be made accessible to her? The Bloemfontein office did not adhere to specific days for specific grants, so an old man from Brandfort had stood in the queue all day but because officials were busy with the registering of babies, no one had been able to see him that day.

Where did one access the referral forms? Ms Breedt asked about the doctor-client ratios. In Fauresmith, there was one doctor who could see only 40 people per month. How would that ratio be improved? She asked if the call centres were live or still in pilot phase. Was SASSA considering SMSes? How many mobile units would there be and where would they be located? Where should one apply for an SRD grant?

Ms B Masango (DA) thanked the Minister for the information as that would help her to provide information to her constituency members. She could not agree more with colleagues on the problems with communications and she had appreciated the Minister’s introduction of a plan with timelines. However, the presentation did not have timeframes and it would not be easy to maintain oversight of it.

With the challenge of human capacity at SASSA, she was concerned about the reluctance to plan ahead. No one could have seen a return to Level 3, but everyone could see the expiry of the temporary disability grant.
Letters should have been sent to recipients before the end of December 2020 and SASSA should have subsequently foreseen the increase in traffic to the offices. The letter could have given each person a day on which to go to the offices but it just informed people to apply and contained no further details. There was no evidence of planning for the numbers who would apply for the extension of those grants.

Ms Masango said the grants had lapsed on 31 December 2020 and the President had announced Level 3 restrictions on 28 December 2020. Why had the Minister not asked the President to issue an instruction to extend grants? SASSA staff should not be working full time in the offices, nor should people with disability be exposing themselves to the risk of catching the virus. Why was no direction given by the Minister? Why had she not extended the grant under the current extension of the National Disaster Act? One could see the strain experienced by SASSA officials in the service centres as were trying to protect themselves and the clients from the virus. The traffic at the SASSA offices had to be looked at with some urgency so that queues were not so long.

People who were applying for child support and other grants, could not be seen by SASSA staff and their appointments were made for at least 30 days later because of the temporary disability grant crisis and so it was evident that all categories of grant applicants were being impacted.

Ms Masango noted that there had been a shortage of doctors long before Covid-19 hit SA, so what steps had been taken to make use of public health facilities? She had a lady in Burgersfort and another in Phoenix in Durban. They were amongst those hardest hit and were asking for money to see treating doctors as they did not have access to doctors in hospitals because of the Covid-19 restrictions. The lack of sufficient doctors was one of the biggest problems at the moment.

In conclusion, Ms Masango asked about the history of the temporary disability grants. How many people had fallen off SASSA’s register? One would think that if SASSA had been paying for temporary disability grants, there should be funds available. Why was there now not enough funding? The desperation was terrible to see as even those who had been employed no longer had jobs. Now the sole income for many was the grant.

Ms N Bilankulu (ANC) agreed with the questions already asked. Members were questioning the long queues in the Western Cape, but there were long queues all over the country, even in her province of Limpopo.

Members had a duty to conscientise their constituents by presenting a good example of wearing masks and social distancing. It was not only SASSA that needed to remind the people about those practices. If those people became positive and took the virus home, that would be a big problem for the provinces.

Ms Bilankulu asked if volunteers were being engaged in all provinces? The issue of volunteers had been raised in a local command centre. There were complaints that when volunteers or SASSA/DSD officials came to monitor, they arrived, signed the register and then went outside and began playing with their phones and going onto social media. DSD and SASSA needed to check that.

Communication had to be strengthened. One of the challenges that Ms Bilankulu noted was that sometimes SASSA officials gave clients specific dates and times for making payments but then they arrived late, by which time some people had left. Officials said that the lack of a strong network in rural areas was a challenge but better arrangements had to be made. There had recently been such a case in Giyani when the officials had failed to arrive and the people had left without their money. That was a huge challenge and should be resolved immediately. People should be informed if payment dates and times changed.

Ms Bilankulu spoke to the allegation that people were getting paid for standing in queues at the post offices. Clients stood in a queue and when they did not get in that day, they were given pieces of paper with a number on it for their position in the queue the following day. Some unscrupulous people asked for R50 to stand in the queue and to get the number for someone who had not queued. Something had to be done about that.

She thanked Minister for giving clarity on the grants. She said that Members should not have to say bad things about DSD and SASSA. She thanked SASSA for its work and, especially, appreciated the extension of the grant to 59-year olds. She thanked the government.

Ms J Manganye (ANC) complimented the DSD and humbly requested that the ward councillors be asked to remind communities of the days that they should go to SASSA offices so that each group of grantees went to the SASSA office on the correct day. Councillors could use a loud hailer so that everyone could hear. That would assist a lot in preventing long queues. She took her little car, a Toyota Tazz, and asked a councillor to drive around the village with her with a loud hailer to inform people when to go to SASSA. The volunteers could not manage the queues. The elders would not listen to the young ones. It was not the job of DSD alone to educate the people. Members were also at home and should play their part. She asked that everyone came together to assist the DSD. Staff were sometimes infected and no one assisted when staff were ill and, consequently, there was a shortage of staff.

Ms Manganye thanked the Minister for the plan on disability clients. She did note that many clients could not fill in the forms on their own so she suggested that Members should get copies of the forms so that they could assist people in their constituencies to complete the forms correctly. People did not want to know that SASSA did not have money, so the Committee should assist people to understand the system.

Ms Manganye complained that grant money always arrived late at the post offices and people became agitated while waiting in the queues. People did not adhere to social distancing. Again, Members should be there to assist and not hit on DSD.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) thanked DSD and the Minister for coming to present so quickly. She appreciated the pressure that DSD faced. It was a perfect storm of sickness, death and poverty. A humanitarian crisis was developing in the country and it would take a mammoth effort to avert it, but it was already happening in pockets across the country.

If DSD continued to be operational, instead of strategic, the country would continue to face such crises. Ms Sukers asked if a comprehensive study of organisational efficiency, and not an academic exercise, had been undertaken by DSD. In the past eight months, the country had seen evidence of the dire need of people. DSD and SASSA had all the data on how many people had applied for a grant, how many were receiving a grant and, importantly, how many had been denied a grant. The data gave a map of SA at that time. It was impossible for DSD to respond to the crisis by itself so how was DSD using the data and information gleaned to re-engineer practices. Picking the low-hanging fruit was good to alleviate pressures, but was DSD merely reactive or was it going to re-engineer practices?

Ms Sukers knew that a great deal of money had been spent on IT infrastructure but data was a problem for people in rural areas, so how did DSD intend communicating and getting the message out. Everyone in SA had to get on board with alleviating the poverty but DSD was the heart or the champion of such work. If DSD did not address the mistrust and lack of credibility immediately, it would not be able to pull society along with it to find a new approach to poverty relief.

She noted that able-bodied young people received grants, but they were not being used to spread messages. Why not? If those young people were receiving government money, why were they not being used to drive the message of specific days for specific grants, social distancing and so on. DSD had to use the capacity that was being paid for and to make them productive and that, in turn, would result in changes in the lives of those young people.

Ms Sukers asked what mode of communication was being used to communicate with community leaders. All constituency offices, all ward councillors and MPs needed the necessary information of the how and the when. Could DSD provide Members with the relevant information in all formats so that Members could make it available at constituency offices and on their own Facebook pages, or other media.

She realised DSD and SASSA were under pressure but they could not afford to drop the ball as the national security of SA was at stake. People who were not doing their jobs, should go. Those who worked in social development had to do their work and DSD had to top up that capacity by using all the human capacity available. How could DSD use community doctors to alleviate the burden?

Ms N Mvana (ANC) was concerned about the means of communication SASSA was using to communicate with those whose grant was expiring. She believed that working with the municipalities would be the best mechanism. Each province should meet with the mayors in that province and see how they could get information to the villages. Some people were aware of the grants being temporary, but would try their luck. She had not seen any Committee Member go into an office and help to keep queues orderly. There were volunteers in her province assisting with queues at Home Affairs. Members were condemning DSD but they did not assist. What had happened had to be condemned, but everyone had to assist. She commended SASSA on the good work. She had never thought so many people would have access to grants.

The Chairperson noted that Members repeated things that had been said. If that was the responsiveness of the Committee, the challenge was for Committee Members to be more disciplined. Everything spoken about related to the customer experience. Customer experience was not a new thing, but it had come to the fore in the light of the challenge of the pandemic. SASSA had the capacity to assist people if call centres served their purpose, and emails worked. He reminded SASSA that not all people had access to electronic media and technology.

The challenge was that the customer experience was not good and made worse by Covid-19. He agreed that the Committee needed to see a plan. That could be the Minister’s major delivery to her portfolio if she were able to improve communication and to ensure that people were treated with dignity. The Minister’s legacy could be improving customer experience. If not everything could be delivered, DSD should show a responsiveness to the people. DSD and SASSA should communicate well and treat people with dignity by managing queues and eliminating the bad things, such as the bribery at post offices. Then other stakeholders would be able to assist.

The aspect of criminals at post office queues, people claiming queue points for others who were still sleeping at home, had to be done away with. The post office was a DSD agent for the purpose of paying out grants, so he believed that there should be a service level agreement between DSD and the Post Office. Within a month, or less, the Committee wanted a concrete plan with deadlines for reducing the queues. The plan should show what amount of time was required to deal with various matters and so how much could be achieved each day. A Member had indicated that there was only one doctor assessing clients for disability grants in George. That was a challenge. DSD and SASSA should not wait to give people a new experience. It was needed immediately. Could the Committee be given a plan that would show how clients would be given a new experience in 2021?

Response by Minister of Social Development
The Minister thanked the Chairperson for his overall summary of the specific areas that DSD had to get into. There was much to be done by DSD, SASSA, NDA and the Post Office.

The Minister proposed that DSD respond only to key and urgent questions. Her original plan was to put a report to Committee, but when she had examined the presentation, she had realised that without an action plan with timeframes, DSD could not respond adequately to the concerns raised by Members. Another meeting was needed to enable DSD to respond with a plan, timeframes and a budget in response to each concern raised by the Members today. As it was close to the end of the financial year, the plan also had to look at the new financial year.

The Minister replied that she had no issues about the points raised by Members as the points were true. That was the reality that she, DSD and SASSA were facing on the ground. That was the reality. Listening to Ms Sukers, in particular, the Minister noted that she had raised that too with SASSA and the NDA. The points raised were at the core of what the Minister was trying to get across to officials. She was not undermining the contributions of other Members, but she felt like she and Ms Sukers had been in a discussion together, although they had not.

The Minister stated that she and her team would respond to key concerns but she requested a second opportunity to respond to the Committee once the officials had done some work on the plans.
Some points made by Members, such as better communication, using loud hailers and using constituency offices crossed political party lines, which was a good thing.

In responding to the request to discuss the Bellville incident, Minister Zulu stated that Ms Masango had issued a statement even while the Committee was in session but she was not going to fight that in the Committee meeting. The fact was that Ms Abrahams had already raised the Minister getting into the Casspir and that it was said that she was not in touch with the people. The Minister wished to explain the situation clearly. First and foremost, she was at the Bellville offices together with the SASSA CEO and everybody. The first thing that she did on arrival was to speak to the people in the queue and ask them to maintain social distancing. She only got into the Casspir because DSD did not have a loud hailer. She had requested DSD to purchase loudhailers the previous year, but it had not been done. SASSA also had trucks which she had told SASSA to use.

The Minister was adamant that she got into the Casspir with the intention of using its equipment. She was not running away. Lindiwe Zulu would never run away from the people. She had dealt with the people and then she had gone into the office for a meeting and a press conference. It was while she was inside the building that the police had sprayed the people with water. It was she who had the told the police to stop because she did not think that it was a good thing for them to do so. She was clarifying, publicly, that she would never ask the police to spray vulnerable people, people in wheelchairs and children. She could not do that. She was not at the Committee to play politics. She accepted that she was there to account to the Portfolio Committee. All the questions raised by Members were real concerns and she had seen exactly those issues on the ground.

The Chairperson asked the Minister if it would suit her to return in two weeks with a comprehensive plan.

The Minister agreed to the timeframe. DSD did not need more than two weeks as already work had been done. Under Lockdown Level 5, she had set up a situation room in which DSD and SASSA had done an analysis of all the issues and they had just finished the terms of reference, which was necessary so that it did not tangle the way that democracy worked. Her team had been efficient then so they were going back to that mode of operation.

The Chairperson stated that officials had two weeks to respond with a comprehensive plan but they had to respond to key concerns immediately as the public would not wait two weeks for a response. A comprehensive action plan would be much better than nice responses so the officials should provide specific details of critical issues.

He added that the Committee was a multi-party committee and so he discouraged majoritarianism. Members should never confuse decency with a platform for politicking. The Members had to walk that line carefully. No Chairperson would not allow majoritarianism so when they tried to work together, it was not because the majority party was scared of using its majority, but for parties to express their views, there had to be non-partisanship. He requested that Members avoided politicking. Members had to find a healthy relationship between partisanship and politicking.

The Chairperson asked Members to note that the Minister had committed to respond within two weeks. Ms Abrahams and Ms van der Merwe had spoken about call centres, referrals and emails and those issues had to be responded to in the meeting.

Ms Masango clarified that she had not issued a media statement during the meeting. She had been quietly sitting in the same meeting throughout the proceedings. She did not know why the Minister had said that she had issued a statement. She found it very, very concerning that the Minister had made such an allegation.

The Chairperson appreciated the fact that Ms Masango had clarified the matter. He had no right to tell her not to issue a statement while she was still in a meeting but it would not have been the right thing to do. The timing would not have been right for the non-partisan approach he took to the Committee’s work. He was very pleased that Ms Masango had set the record straight.

Response by DSD and SASSA
SASSA CEO, Ms Memela, replied that the regional call centres did not have enough capacity for the current situation, hence the outsourcing of call centres. The company that had won the tender had started work on the telephones that very morning.

The Chairperson asked when the call centre was established. Was a new system being implemented?

The CEO replied that it was an extension of the SASSA call centre system. SASSA could not respond to all the clients so it had outsourced the operation of the call centre. The company would provide additional capacity as it was bringing 300 call centre agents on board. It was the very same company that had assisted SASSA to set up its original call centre system. SASSA had developed a business case for the establishment of a one-stop call centre and would be working towards that vision.

The Chairperson interjected. Was the call centre working that day? Was it functional now or not?

The CEO replied that the challenge was to train the call centre agents but they were currently being trained so the call centre would be working fine the following week, as would an automated system. The regional call centres were working at the time but the capacity was insufficient for the number of calls made to SASSA. She explained that each region had its own regional plan. The plan had to contain the felt needs of each region. She would monitor that the regions met the stated goals in their regions.

The CEO had followed up on the Grabouw incident and explained that the person who had died there had passed away at an inter-governmental centre. She had not been a SASSA client.

The CEO apologised if Members did not have the application forms. She had sent a copy of the form as well as a description of the process to the Committee Secretary. She would resend the documents.

The 475 doctors had been contracted as SASSA doctors but it did not mean that a client could not go to a health facility because that was where the client’s records were kept. The Western Cape had nine doctors.  Following the advertisement for doctors to do disability assessments, 500 had shown interest and 33 were ready to be trained that week. Other provinces had sufficient doctors and those had been given an increased quota of clients.

The SASSA staff could not all work in office. The Gugulethu office had 45 employees but only 15 worked in the office at any one time. The City of Cape Town had taken away the 175 community hall facilities and only that week had SASSA signed a memorandum with the City to make the hall facilities available.

In the Western Cape, SASSA had 53 000 clients but 63% of the clients went to the 11 offices in the Cape Town metro. SASSA would be receiving funding so that they could get support and engage more doctors. SASSA had held a meeting with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the two entities would work as a collective to engage churches to permit the use of their facilities, especially in the city.

When the pandemic had started, the Minister of Social Development had written to ask the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) to assist with offices. There had not been a meeting of minds with Cape Town City Council but that had since changed and now, in addition to the 11 offices, there would be 93 service centres that SASSA had not had the previous week.

On business re-engineering, SASSA had been dealing with that but that had been interrupted by the advent of Covid-19. Consultants would now help SASSA to do the re-engineering and the CEO would present the finished product to the Committee. That would ensure the improvement of customer service.

The DSD Acting DG responded to the comment about organisational inefficiencies. DSD paid out more money than any other organisation in the country and even on the African continent. 80 million grants were paid to 12 million recipients. In the past six months, an additional 10 million recipients had been paid, making it 22 million grant recipients in total. DSD had regular engagements and maintained oversight to ensure that organisational efficiencies were retained and the inefficiencies were removed. In some areas, SASSA got it right while in other areas, it was necessary to re-look at the systems. DSD had started a serious process of business case re-engineering as there had been historical problems and DSD wanted to resolve those. The Minister had advised how, in Brazil, grant recipients received an SMS telling them when to come to the office to collect their grants and DSD wanted to get to that position in order to uphold the dignity of its clients.

The Acting DG promised to bring a convincing plan in two weeks’ time and at the same meeting the officials could report on the effectiveness of the short term plans they were putting into place immediately.

Ms van der Merwe reminded the meeting about the referral form. She had requested that the form be posted on the website. She also asked where the Deputy Minister was.

The Chairperson stated that the Deputy Minister was present on the platform.

Ms van der Merwe repeated her question. Had the Minister referred the matter of using a water cannon in Bellville to the Minister of Police? She wanted the Committee to show that it took a very strong stance against the treatment of vulnerable people in such a fashion.

The Chairperson stated that the Minister was the one who had told the police to stop the water spraying. Why would the Members want to ask if she had phoned the Minister of Police?

Ms Sukers commented that it was the behaviour of the police that had to be responded to.

The Chairperson said that the Minister had explained the situation. No one had referred to the conduct of the police. Ms van der Merwe has simply asked if she had contacted the Minister of Police. Ms Sukers’ comment was irrelevant.

Ms Dunkerley stated that the referral form was on the SASSA website but she would follow up. The form and procedure had also been sent to the Committee Researcher but she would send the documents again.

Ms van der Merwe pointed out that the form was not on the website. She really wanted to assist clients.

The Chairperson stated that he agreed with Ms van der Merwe and that SASSA had to sort that out.

Minister Zulu replied that she had explained herself and why she had been on the Casspir. When she had seen the water spraying, she was the one who had told the police to stop. The information out there was incorrect. She was not a prima donna. She was clarifying the situation because the media had not got the sequence of events correct. The SAHRC, together with the City of Cape Town, was dealing with the matter as it was a matter about the police. She would bring the report on the incident on her return.

Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu stated that she was disabled and was representing the sector talked about.

The Chairperson reminded DSD and SASSA that the Committee required the complete plan within two weeks.

The meeting was adjourned.

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: