Sassa water cannon chaos: 'I, this Lindiwe Zulu, asked the police to stop the spraying'

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A large number of people queuing at Sassa's Bellville office on Friday.
A large number of people queuing at Sassa's Bellville office on Friday.
Jaco Marais
  • Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said she asked the police to stop spraying people, who were queuing outside a Sassa office in Bellville.
  • MPs from across the political spectrum condemned the incident.
  • Sassa has to provide an action plan to deal with the applications for temporary disability grants in two weeks.

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said she asked the police to stop spraying vulnerable Sassa clients with a water cannon on Friday in Bellville, Cape Town, after MPs roundly condemned the incident.

The Portfolio Committee on Social Development met on Wednesday to receive a briefing from the Department of Social Development and Sassa on their plans to address challenges created by the lapsing of the temporary disability grants (TDGs), reapplications, overcrowding at Sassa offices and the interventions taken to address the issue.

MPs from all parties represented in the committee condemned Friday's events.

Zulu, who on Friday was seen in a police Casspir, said she used the vehicle's public address system to ask the people to practice social distancing, as they didn't have loudhailers.

"This Lindiwe Zulu can never run away from the people, this must be understood," she said of the criticism that she is out of touch with the populace.

She said she was in the Sassa offices, addressing a media briefing, when the police unleashed the water cannons.

Zulu said:

I, this Lindiwe Zulu, asked the police to stop the spraying.

"I didn't think it was a good thing to do."

She said she would never ask the police to spray vulnerable people with water.

Meanwhile, the South African Human Rights Commission is looking into the matter and the Western Cape police have instituted an internal investigation.

The long queues at Sassa offices countrywide are caused by its decision not to renew the temporary disability grants (TDG), meaning that beneficiaries have to reapply, which entails a new medical assessment.

Sassa executive manager Dianne Dunkerley said they experienced the following challenges:

  • The country was under Level 1 lockdown restrictions when the project was developed and approved. The return to adjusted lockdown Level 3 at the end of December has created challenges, particularly with access to health facilities for records and assessments;
  • Health facilities, which had initially agreed to assist, are now limiting access, as a result of the increase in Covid-19 cases – especially in the Western Cape, which has the highest numbers;
  • Organised labour was likely to raise objections about increased numbers being served at local offices under Level 3 due to increased perceived risk to staff;
  • Lack of access to community halls used as service points – particularly in Western Cape - has resulted in overcrowding at Sassa local offices; and 
  • Funding to reinstate all lapsed TDGs and keep in payment to March will be approximately R1.2 billion in the 2020/21 financial year.  Based on updated projections, funds are not available to support this. 

Sassa further presented short-term and medium to long-term interventions.

However, Zulu said this must be an actionable plan, with delivery dates.

This will be presented to the committee in two weeks.

Among the short term interventions are:

  • Strengthened communication;
  • Contracting additional doctors;
  • Approaching the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the City of Cape Town for community halls to be made available;
  • Referral forms available on Sassa's website;
  • Allocate the mobile offices to ensure that services are taken closer to communities; and
  • Strengthen engagements with NGOs working with people with disabilities to assist with communication to affected clients.

MPs raised several concerns, which committee chairperson Mondli Gungubele summarised as relating to "customer experience".

He said this was not new, but had been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe said she phoned every Sassa call centre and didn't get an answer. FF Plus MP Tammy Breedt said it is not only the call centres that aren't working, but she also didn't get a response after sending an e-mail.

DA MP Alexandra Abrahams said she registered on Sassa's online system to help others, but she could not access the referral forms.

Sassa CEO Totsie Memela admitted that the call centres do not have "sufficient capacity". She said they contracted a company in December to provide 300 call centre agents and by next week it will be working at full capacity.

Several MPs said they understood that Sassa's staff were working under difficult circumstances.

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