PICS | Desperate South Africans sleep outside Sassa offices in the cold in bid to get help

People stand in a snaking line outside Sassa offices in Long Street.
People stand in a snaking line outside Sassa offices in Long Street.
Ashraf Hendricks, GroudUp

It was a cold and overcast day in Cape Town's city centre on Thursday, where more than 100 people joined the queue snaking around the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) offices in Long Street.

When GroundUp arrived mid-morning, some people were sitting on the ground or in camping chairs, while others with children stood around cars parked nearby, as they waited for the line to move.

People were huddled in small groups and covered themselves with blankets to ward off the cold morning breeze. Everyone in sight was wearing a mask, even some of the younger children perched on their parents shoulders. But there was little evidence of physical distancing, nor did officials attempt to assist people to keep their distance from each other.

More than 100 people stand in a snaking line outside a Sassa office in Long Street on Thursday morning. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

There were also a few people sleeping near the entrance. This is not a strange sight outside Sassa as many often camp outside the offices for the night in a bid to be one of the first to be served the next day.

A notice at the entrance reads: "Dear Sassa client please be informed that Sassa Cape Town local office will be able to assist only 70 clients a day due to the Level 4 lockdown regulation which requires 1/3 of the compliment in an office."

Another page stuck on the window gives more details about which days of the week certain clients would be helped. It said "Wednesdays and Thursdays are the child support and foster child grants".

Taylin Andreas from Ravensmead came to apply for a child support grant for her 17-month-old child.

"I slept outside [Sassa] for two days with my child," she said.

The 19-year-old single mom said while she was given an application form inside on Wednesday, she was sent to the police station to get an affidavit. She returned on Thursday to submit her documents but had to join the queue once again with little prospect of being helped by the time the GroundUp team left.

Taylin Andreas from Ravensmead said she spent two nights outside the office with her 17-month-old child. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

"It's not fair because I was already here. So what must I do now?" she asked.

Andreas said she had "sacrificed everything just to be here and get help" for food and to provide for her family.

"I don't know what else to do other than to stand here in this line."

Thobela Nkone arrived at the offices at 16:00 on Wednesday from Dunoon. He too spent the night outside to apply for a grant for his six-week-old child. Nkone said he had asked city workers on Thursday night for cardboard so he had something to put on the cold, wet pavement.

"It's so painful."

He said there were about 100 people who spent the night there on Wednesday. He did the same last week, but this time he just needed to submit his documents.

To help officials streamline the process, Nkone began making a list of all the people standing in line from Tuesday who could not enter. He showed GroundUp the 221 names on the list which did not yet include those who joined the line on Thursday.

Nkone said he was unemployed and should their grant be approved, it would be the only means to feed their child. He suggested Sassa have separate lines for people who were there to submit forms and another for first-time applicants who would take longer to serve.

Denise, who asked that GroundUp withhold her surname, said she arrived at about 04:00 on Thursday to apply for a foster care child grant. She added she first attempted to apply for the grant in February and had been sent from pillar to post. She travelled to town from Philippi East.

Denise said officials inside did not communicate with them, which caused confusion for those waiting outside.

"If I was not desperate I would leave," she added. "So that's why I'm here today to see if I can get everything done so I can get money for my foster child."

Before the lockdown, Denise worked as an early childhood development teacher. Her last salary was at the end of February.

"I am here today because I am desperate," she said.

By the time the GroundUp team left, it was clear few people it had first spoken to near the entrance had been helped. It appeared highly likely that most people in line would have to return next week because Fridays are reserved for disability grant applicants.

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