Woman (87) told to sing for her pension

2013-04-10 00:00

GOVERNMENT welfare officials have given new meaning to the expression “sing for your supper”.

Ria van Straaten, a frail 87-year-old from Newcastle, was ordered to sing over a public address system before she could collect her R1 200 grant at a pension paypoint in the town last month.

This angered the woman’s son, Braam (63), who told The Witness yesterday he would lodge a complaint with Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.

A close family member had drawn attention to Van Straaten’s humiliation in a letter to The Witness.

Braam van Straaten said his mother was mortified and too embarrassed to speak to the media.

He said a SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) official had refused to assist his mother unless she sang.

At first his mom thought it was a joke, he said, but the Sassa official gave her a microphone and the rest of the staff laughed as they looked on.

When the senior citizen said she did not know which song to sing, the official insisted that she sing and threatened to withhold her pension card.

Van Straaten, who is partially blind, eventually gave in and sang Happy Birthday over the public address system, to the amusement of staff.

“Her humiliating performance was on the big screens in the building and staff members found it funny and no one tried to help her,” he said.

Van Straaten said the officials bullied his mother because she had gone there by herself.

“I am enraged that officials can act this way. To make matters worse, this was a female official who did this to her.”

Van Straaten said the family had not reported the matter at the time because his mother was too embarrassed to speak about the incident.

She was scared and withdrawn and was in dread about what the next trip to get her pension would involve, he added.

“Many elderly citizens often brave the scorching heat and adverse weather conditions to collect the funds.

“Many are also breadwinners and have to put food on the table and I hope to bring this to the attention of the minister so that she can rehabilitate her staff at the Newcastle branch,” he said.

Sassa KZN spokesperson Vusi Mahaye said the Van Straatens would be expected to produce the name of the female official, the name of one other official who was present, as well as the branch where the incident occurred, in order for an investigation to be launched.

Imraan Keeka, the Democratic Alliance chairperson of the Amajuba District in Newcastle, said the woman was let down by the government agency. He called for the officials to be disciplined, describing the alleged behaviour as unacceptable.

In another incident last year, a woman who went to Sassa’s Newcastle offices to collect a foster grant was reportedly called a ‘whore’ by an employee after she questioned his attitude. The official responsible had since apologised for the incident, according to the Newcastle Advertiser.

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