SASSA reported to Human Rights Commission over 'inhumane queues'

The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) may find itself in hot water with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) over queuing conditions which have been described as abhorrent and inhumane.

The Democratic Alliance's (DA) Shadow Minister of Social Development, Bridget Masango, confirmed that a complaint had been lodged against SASSA and its CEO Busisiwe Memela-Khambula. Masango argued that SASSA's failure to process social grants in an orderly and prompt manner had added further distress to South Africa's most vulnerable citizens.

Beneficiaries queue through cold nights  

The nationwide lockdown instituted to curb the spread of COVID-19 has proved problematic for operations in both the public and private sector. The dire socioeconomic predicament, as a result of industrial inactivity, has pushed South Africans deeper into poverty.

In an attempt to alleviate some financial strain, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised a unique Social Relief of Distress Grant programme which would see unemployed South Africans receive R350 a month. The application and payment process has been handled, with limited success, by SASSA.

This new responsibility — which has serviced over 13 million inquires — has overwhelmed the agency's already-beleaguered administrative systems. With over 17 million South Africans already relying on some form of social welfare, SASSA has been unable to fulfil its mandate. This, in turn, has led to a major backlog in Social Relief of Distress Grant payouts.

Conditions have been made more complicated by SASSA's decision to reopen its physical offices with only 30% of staff available to assist beneficiaries. As a result, beneficiaries –many of them elderly or disabled — have begun queuing through the night in order to better their chances of assistance the next morning.

SASSA blasted for impairing the dignity of beneficiaries

Masango added that the SASSA — and the Department of Social Development, led by Minister Lindiwe Zulu — had failed to preserve the dignity of those they serve. Masango criticised Memela-Khambula for ignoring the pleas made by the DA to increase staffing capacity and competency, adding:

"In addition to the inhumane treatment of the vulnerable and elderly, SASSA is now hiding behind technical glitches and empty promises regarding the payment of the R350 special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant.
They are grandstanding on the mere 2% of special grant recipients that received payment.
This is nothing to brag about, in fact, it only serves as a reminder of their failures."

This isn't the first time the DA has condemned the Department of Social Development and SASSA. In May, the official opposition party hauled Minister Zulu before the SAHRC for restrictions placed on private feeding schemes. The SAHRC declared that the department had violated human rights by attempting to regulate food donations offered by non-governmental organisations and private donors.