South Africa: Frustration for Some Social Grant Recipients in Jo'burg As Transport Issues Delay Staff

At 06:00 on Monday, Mark Marctabakin was ready and waiting for the doors of Norwood Pick n Pay to open so that he could collect his grant for himself and his mother.

He woke up at 05:00 to ensure that he was first in the queue after it was announced that the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) would pay grants early from 30 March during the 21-day lockdown. The lockdown kicked off on Thursday at midnight and is expected to run until 16 April, to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

The doors, however, remained closed, even though Pick n Pay had sent out a text message saying its stores would open at 06:00 to assist grant beneficiaries.

Marctabakin had already spoken to the manager. He had been told that some of the staff had not arrived yet, as they were struggling to get transport. This was despite extra taxis being put on the roads to ensure essential staff were in place to help the process run smoothly.

Social distancing

Behind him, the queue grew steadily. Most people who arrived were wearing gloves and protective masks. Some improvised with pieces of material over their mouths. Several of the queuers, like Hazel Letlhake, were staying nearby and had walked to the mall. Letlhake made sure the person behind her was observing social distancing regulations and stayed within their space, marked on the floor with tape.

While waiting, one person who did not want to be named, delved into his theories about Covid-19.

"Our government is not engaging us. They are not telling us what is going on behind the scenes," he said.

A woman dressed in a nurse's uniform who was 16th in the queue, eventually left, telling a fellow queuer that she needed to try and get on a taxi to make her way to work.

Melanie de Meillon isn't a grant recipient. She was there to collect for her parents. Her mother has just being discharged from hospital, where she has been for the last three months.

"I don't want to be here for lockdown. I am here for my parents."

She asked that other shoppers give the elderly space to collect their grants over the next few days and allow them to get their shopping done. She added that, if possible, children should assist their parents and collect their money for them, to lessen their exposure to the virus.

"It is the responsible thing to do, to come here for your parents," she said.

Transport issue

By 07:16, the guard had opened the doors, only allowing a specified amount of people inside as set out in government legislation. Each person coming into the store was given a spritz of sanitiser on their hands before being shown to a chair, which had been spaced out to ensure social distancing continued.

A manager, who did not want to be named, confirmed that transport had been an issue. He added that staff had now arrived and that the process of paying grants would soon get under way.

While cashiers set up at two tills, another manager disinfected the till area. All tills have a sheet of perspex in place to protect cashiers and customers.

A couple, who had been waiting patiently in the line since early in the morning, were asked to leave as the store would only be processing grants and not be allowing people to buy groceries at the same time. The couple said they would come back later.

Those with walking sticks and walkers were taken to the front of the queue.

By 07:30, the process was under way and recipients started getting assistance, while outside the store the queue continued to grow.

On Sunday evening, it was announced that 1 280 people had been infected with Covid-19 so far.


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