'Shameful disregard for human rights' - Black Sash slams cops over Sassa water cannon incident

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  • The Black Sash has condemned the use of a water cannon to enforce social distancing in a queue at Sassa offices in Cape Town.
  • Grant beneficiaries, among them elderly and disabled citizens, were queuing at the office to renew their temporary disability grants.
  • The Black Sash has called for the temporary disability grants to be extended until March. 

The Black Sash has censured the use of force against social grant beneficiaries as they queued outside the Bellville Sassa office in Cape Town on Friday.

Hundreds of people were queuing at the offices to renew their temporary disability grants. Around 200 000 people countrywide have had to reapply for these grants.

Police turned a water cannon on the crowd at Sassa's Bellville office, after instructing them to socially distance and giving them one minute to comply.

READ | More than 200,000 disability grants suspended as Sassa runs out of money

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu was on the scene, pleading with those in the queue to socially distance while conducting her walkabout. She later told News24 that her department should have planned better to avoid the chaos seen on Friday.

The Black Sash has demanded that Sassa extend the temporary disability grants that lapsed on 31 December 2020 for three months. 

ALSO READ | Sassa grants 'debacle' leaving people without food, creating super-spreader situations - Winde

"The Black Sash strongly condemns the police's use of force and the shameful and shocking disregard for the human rights of vulnerable beneficiaries, many of whom are disabled and chronically ill. There was no justification for the use of water cannons to enforce social distancing, as Sassa failed to provide an adequate procedure for the reapplication of temporary disability grants, including safe spaces, seating and crowd management for compliance protocols," the organisation said in a statement.

The Black Sash insists that Sassa has "severe capacity constraints" and "simply does not have the capacity to safely and quickly attend to medical assessments while processing applications".

"We implore the minister to act decisively to bring an end to vast crowds of beneficiaries trying to obtain their constitutional right to social assistance," the statement said.

The organisation has now called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene, saying queuing grant beneficiaries now face risk of exposure to Covid-19, on top of "police callously using force".

"The president must inform beneficiaries, and the nation, what will be done to ensure that non-violent means will be used to safely manage queues outside Sassa," the organisation said.

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