SASSA’s COVID-19 containment strategy thin on detail, low on protection.

The Black Sash notes government’s regulations to contain the spread of COVID-19. Social Development Minister, Lindiwe Zulu, issued a directive that SASSA offices, pay points and SAPO branches must remain operational for April 2020 social grant payments. These facilities must adhere to Occupation Health and Safety guidelines and strictly enforce protective measures to prevent local Coronavirus transmission.

However, only 5% of grant beneficiaries currently make use of pay points and SAPO branches. Located outside of the Minister’s scope is approximately 95% of the 12 million grant recipients who collect their grants at ATMs (61%) and retailers (34%). Strategies for containing the spread of the virus in these commercial spaces should be communicated timeously. The measures must take into account that there are approximately 3,6 million elderly beneficiaries and over one million people on disability grants. Beneficiaries already spend a huge amount of their grants on transportation costs and bank charges to collect their grants. No further costs should be incurred when beneficiaries are turned back from commercial spaces due to the prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people.

The COVID-19 pandemic comes at a time when the South African economy is in recession, with a consistently high unemployment rate. Cabinet has indicated that it is finalising interventions to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. The Black Sash is concerned that for the poor and many workers COVID-19 containment measures will translate into further job losses or a reduction of income.

The Disaster Relief Fund of R96 million is meant to provide assistance to affected individuals and families. This is a good start but it is highly inadequate. Our government has ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). As recommended by the UN Committee, government must ensure that those between the ages of 18 and 59 years with little or no income and are unemployed, have access to social assistance by October 2020. There are growing international calls for governments to put measures in place to remedy the current economic outfall by utilising cash transfers to vulnerable groups. South Africa will need an even bolder and more comprehensive social security safety net to mitigate the negative economic outfall of COVID-19.


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