Anger and frustration as Covid-19 relief fund backlog rises


Scores of unemployed people who are still waiting for the R350 Covid-19 relief fund, have expressed anger and frustration at not getting any feedback from the South African Security Agency (Sassa) months after they sent in their applications.

The R350 grant is meant for unemployed South Africans and qualifying foreign citizens and was announced in April by President Cyril Ramaphosa and qualifying applicants were told that they would be paid by the end of the month.

However, not all payments were made, while some people are still waiting to be told if they qualify or not.

An Orange Farm resident, Thabo Qhubai, said he applied via email after the announcement in April. The 58-year-old said he did not receive feedback from Sassa as to whether his application has been processed or not.

“The only feedback I received was that my application was pending. Even today I’m still waiting because we were told that there was no need to keep applying,” he said.

The father of three said he was badly affected by the lockdown and has no income whatsoever.

“Everything is now expensive and I was hoping to buy basic food with that money. The last time we had an income at home was when I was working three years ago,” said Qhubai.

And Promise Nkosi said she has been calling but her calls are not answered.

“The first time it said my details did not match. Because they did not give us an option to correct the mistakes on the system, I’ve tried to call them but it has never been answered. I have been trying, even this week. But they don’t answer the phone.”

Chilliboy Lebeya said he applied for the relief grant in May after piece jobs became scarce due to lockdown. He too applied via an SMS.

“After that I received a coder. Every time I make a follow-up they send another code showing that I have applied. I went to the Post Office to show that I have registered and I was told that Sassa will send me an SMS with a balance.

“Now I am worried that the grant will come to an end next month and many of us have not received even a cent since we applied in May. I can’t even support my children back at home and I was hoping that I would be able to send them something from R350,” he said.

Similarly Teboho Mola, who sent his application in April still hasn’t received a response. “At first it said declined. I reapplied again after the government said it would review the applications. I have applied on WhatsApp.

“I have never received a response since then, and when I call they don’t answer the phones,” he said.

According to the Pay Grants campaign – which supports people who are left out or awaiting the lifeline – at the beginning of lat month, 4.4 million people had received the relief of distress grants, although 8 to 15 million people are estimated to be eligible.

It said Sassa has also acknowledged that over 8 million applications had been received, showing that the need for assistance is almost double what has been rolled out thus far.

On Monday, DA’s shadow minister of Social Development Bridget Masango revealed that Sassa was drowning under a backlog of 300000 emails and 4 000 attempted phone calls a day from desperate people seeking assistance with the Covid-19 relief of distress (SRD) grant of R350.

Masango said, in a reply to DA’s parliamentary question, that the Department of Social Development (DSD) said it paid six technical advisers a total of R2534831 between May and October 2018.

She said those advisers clearly did not fix any of the agency’s challenges as Sassa confirmed the backlog.

“Sassa now hopes to solve this dire situation by outsourcing the flood of calls and emails to a new call centre that is expected to deal with 90% of the emails and phone calls with an 80% success rate.”

She said had the agency successfully implemented the suggestions for which it paid so dearly in 2018, vulnerable South Africans might have had more of a fighting chance these past six months.

“Instead, Sassa made a mess of the advice and millions of vulnerable people still have no certainty of how they will provide for their families today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future while those without empathy reign supreme as Sassa and DSD.

DSD spokesperson Nomfundo Xulu-Lentsoane referred questions to Sassa spokesperson Kgomoco Diseko who confirmed that the agency has a backlog.

“The Covid-19 grant was introduced without additional funding for administration, so the in-sourced call centre is currently using the number of staff on our organogram and thus, the challenge of processing the abnormally high number of applications during this period where the pandemic is straining our resources,” he said.

Diseko added that the call centre would be beefed up next month, and that Sassa will resolve “current resource challenges going forward”.

“Applications for the Covid-19 grant will close in October but anyone whose application shall have been made before then will be processed and paid if they qualify.”


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