OPINION | Misery and danger in Sassa queues must stop now

Image: South African Gov‏ via Twitter

The desperation of people queuing outside government offices from midnight so that they may be served in the morning is heartbreaking. State services are often fraught with poor delivery; sadly it has become the norm at a number of state institutions. However, it is completely unacceptable for people's lives to be put at risk by the very act of seeking help. What has happened to the principle of Batho Pele, People First?

In today's Daily Dispatch we report on more than 50 people, including young mothers with infants on their backs, who  brave the cold night to queue outside the Sassa offices in East London's CBD in hope of being first inside when the doors open in the morning. All they want is to have their  social grant applications processed.  Yet amid this suffering they still have to play hide and seek with law enforcement agents who arrest them for breaking lockdown regulations. 

It is completely unacceptable for people's lives to
be put at risk by
the very act of seeking help

Those interviewed by the Dispatch say the struggle to get registered with Sassa right now is mostly because the social grant authority serves only 50 people per day at its North End street office. Some have been trying for over three weeks to have their applications processed. They see little option but risking their safety in the cold and dark, and their freedom amid the threat of arrest.

While we appreciate that Sassa can serve only a limited number of people per day due to lockdown regulations, we feel proper planning could go a long way in alleviating the plight of these people who are queuing overnight. Surely there are alternatives that the social security authority could pursue?

Why can't Sassa introduce mobile offices to cut down on the distances beneficiaries have to travel to get assistance? Why can't it allow applicants to pick up forms, complete them at home and drop them off with supporting documents? While literacy and data issues may be a factor, we wonder why Sassa does not put more effort into helping applicants use online services.

Innovation badly needs to be  the name of the game, especially right now amid the winter chill, lockdown regulations and threat of catching Covid-19 from the person next to you in the queue. It cannot be business as usual  when people risk their lives day and night to access government services.  Urgent action is required. Let's solve this problem, Sassa, before we receive reports of muggings, or worse, deaths in your queues.