As food parcels run out, many are living in hunger, waiting patiently to see if they will be one of the lucky ones who will receive the R350 relief fund
A half-full bag of rice on a dusty floor next to a grimy pot behind a rickety old bed is the only item remaining from a government-sponsored food parcel received almost two months ago by Odirile Chose.
His hope of finding something to cook to have with the rice depends on whether he gets the R350 special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant which, he said, would go a long way to ensure that he does not go to bed on an empty stomach.
But it has been more than a month and an anxious wait for Chose.
He does not have a cellphone and has had to rely a relative to apply for the grant on his behalf.
Chose struggled to explain the anxiety – as well as the frustration and hunger he has endured – while waiting to receive the grant.
“Waiting for the unknown is painful and this has been exacerbated by news reports that more than a million applications were rejected. I had hope when the R350 grant was introduced but now the wait is killing us … it is like we were made to set the table before we could even smell any food,” he said.
“Things were much better before the news came that people could apply for the relief grant … we were helpless and had accepted it. Most of us regained hope after applying for the grant. But more than a month later, here we are … still waiting.”
The food parcel was a huge relief for 55-year-old Chose and his younger brother, with whom he shares a mud house in Makgobistad village outside Mahikeng, North West.
“I am sickly and I still have many years to go before I qualify for an old-age social grant. The last time I had a proper job was about two decades ago. My brother and I survive by doing odd jobs, such as cleaning people’s yards. It is bad because people are too broke to spend money on such services since the lockdown started … it has been hard for everyone,” Chose said.
“I know only one person who has so far received the promised grant and I consider him to be one of the luckiest because we applied about the same time. I wake up every day hoping for my relative to bring the good news that an SMS has come through saying my money is now available for collection but it is not happening … I wish I could just forget about it but we are confronted by hunger on a daily basis.”
Another resident of Makgobistad, 32-year-old Koketso Matsime was still hopeful that he would get the grant he had applied for more than a month ago.
“I do not see any reason for my application to be unsuccessful because I am unemployed and do not get any benefit from social development. I will get the money but it is taking way too long … I am still young and I can do odd jobs and get something to eat daily but others out there really need this money desperately,” Matsime said.
In Ledig village, outside Rustenburg, Lerothodi Molefe said he prayed every time he received a message on his phone.
“Every time I get a message I pray and hope that it is a notification from my bank saying the money was deposited or Sassa [the SA Social Security Agency] saying at least that my application has been approved and money would be available soon. All I know right now is that my application is still being processed,” Molefe said.
Sassa came under fire recently for taking so long to process the payment of grants at the time when many people desperately needed the money.
The agency said the grants had to go through its administration and verification processes.
Some people did not qualify for the grant and the agency’s aim was to pay the “right grant to the right people”.
“So far 3.2 million applicants have been approved and 1.2 million have been paid. Payment is still in progress and Sassa needs to do a verification check before any payments can be made … applicants are processed daily but the major source of delay comes from the necessary verification process which Sassa has to do with other institutions,” said Sassa chief executive Totsie Memela last week.
Even though Sassa had rejected a number of applications because those seeking help did not meet the criteria, there were some hopeful people in Johannesburg queueing outside the agency’s offices in Braamfontein on Friday morning.
Among them was an unemployed mother of two, 33-year-old Asanda Mjezi, who was living in Jeppestown with relatives.
“I have no choice because I am a single parent with two children and I am in real need of this money. I would not be here if I had another option that would allow me to care for my children,” Mjezi said.
She had been unemployed for two years after she was retrenched by a bakery company in downtown Johannesburg.
“It is hard finding a job these days and I pray that my application gets approved. I don’t know what I will do if theyreject it,” Mjezi said.
Another applicant from Fordsburg, who identified himself only as Joseph, worked as a part-time car guard. He said it had been hard to make any money to feed his family since the lockdown was imposed late in March.
“I really hope Sassa comes through for me. The lockdown has been really hard on us out in the street,” he said.