Social Relief of Distress

Anroux Marais MPP

DA Western Cape Spokesperson on Community Development

(Subject for discussion: The support for the destitute and poor in the programme called Social Relief of Distress)

Honourable Deputy Speaker, the Western Cape Department of Social Development’s mission is to ensure the provision of a comprehensive network of social development services that enables and empowers the poor, the vulnerable and those with special needs. For this reason, in my oversight role over social development in the Western Cape, I am concerned about the practicality of the Social Relief of Distress programme. It is a South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) initiative and within Social Development in the Western Cape we have many an experience with SASSA. More often than not, negative experiences, which results in the vulnerable bearing the brunt of a dysfunctional national agency.

In July, in a presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Development, SASSA officials explained the legislative framework, categories and developmental approach of the Social Relief of Distress programme. The presentation made clear that “an application for Social Relief of Distress must be made in the relevant form and be completed by the applicant or his or her procurator at the offices of the Agency or at a designated place in the presence of a designated officer, or with the assistance of the designated officer for the area in which the applicant resides; and signed, certified or confirmed in the presence of the designated officer by the applicant or his or her procurator. The designated officer must approve or reject the application for social relief of distress immediately”.

Speaker, this becomes a serious cause for concern, based on our negative experiences with SASSA, in both the past and presently. The practicality of the Social Relief of Distress, based on these negative experiences warrants the questions: How accessible is the application process? How successful is the application process as well as the issuing of the relief?

Speaker, these questions surface in light of public comment on SASSA services. I quote one of these published in the Sunday Times in June this year[1], entitled “Chaos at SASSA offices makes seeking a grant a trying ordeal. Wanting to remain anonymous, the individual said, “There have been reports in the Sunday Times and The Times about alleged corrupt practices among the hierarchy in SASSA. This is bad enough, but if you visit any SASSA office where members of the public are expected to apply for grants, you would find it a revelation. The hall is always crowded to capacity and confusion reigns. No one is told what is going on or where to go. The queues of seated applicants are disorganised and such announcements as are made are rendered inaudible by the noise generated by the people waiting for assistance. If you put a question to anyone who appears to be a marshal, it is treated as an affront. Usually, persons asking for information or help are simply ignored. It took me two whole days to lodge my application, starting at 6.30 am every day. It fills me with despair”.

Speaker, another public outcry as published in the Cape Argus[2], and I quote, “Its absolute chaos, I arrived at the pay point on Friday morning and was told at 3pm to return on Monday”. She did so but was told to return on Tuesday. “I came here at 7am and they only let us in at 8.30am, but then nothing moved until 9.30. She said she had initially been told “there was no money”. This Deputy Speaker is the quality of services from SASSA.

Adding injury to the wound, is that:

  • The Constitutional Court found that SASSA awarded constitutionally invalid tenders.
  • SASSA CEO, Virginia Petersen, has been implicated in cronyism allegations in which she secured jobs for family members of her friends.
  • It is alleged that SASSA had been unlawfully deducting money from pensioners nationwide and that there was a growing spate of administrative disasters within the agency resulting in many people left without money to even buy bread.

Speaker, if this is the quality of service and calibre of a National Agency tasked to support the destitute and poor with Social Relief of Distress, although essential, SASSA is not fit to provide this necessity.

This Deputy Speaker, is indicative of how national ANC government and its agencies are rending lip service to the vulnerable, not only in the Western Cape, but South Africa as a whole. The DA will not tolerate the national government’s “let them eat cake” demeanour and will engage with all stakeholders including SASSA to redress this infringement of human rights whereby numbers are more important than impact. Going forward, as the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Community Development, I will propose to the committee that we invite SASSA again to clarify the practicality and implementation of this programme.

I thank you.

[1] Sunday Times, 22 June 2014, Chaos at Sassa offices makes seeking a grant a trying ordeal