Government Perpetrates Ableist Violence Against Grant Claimants with Disabilities
On Friday, 15 January 2021, social grant claimants – mostly those with disabilities and chronic illnesses – stood in long, congested queues outside the Bellville SASSA office. They were there to reapply for disability and care dependency grants that were terminated abruptly at the end of December 2020. Police used high-pressure water cannons on the growing crowds, supposedly to enforce social distancing, in a context where this was impossible for those present. This show of force was carried out in the presence of Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu who endorsed the overt ableist violence being perpetrated. This type of violence asserts ableism or the prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities and is experienced daily in many forms.
SASSA failed to provide an adequate and safe procedure for the reapplication for temporary disability grants, essentially creating the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding. People risking their health and safety to regain access to life-saving financial support were met with more violence, placing them in further harm.
While condemning this brutal act of physical and psychological violence that police unleashed on claimants, we need to also understand that this is not an isolated incident, but rather speaks to a pattern of continued failure by government to adequately address the needs of those with disabilities and chronic illnesses who are most vulnerable and burdened with the most risk during this pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time SASSA has attempted to restrict disability grant recipients from accessing benefits and application processes. Since the implementation of the State of Disaster Act in March 2020, there has been nothing to back-up government’s assurances that the “vulnerable” in society would “not be left behind”. This latest incident and the subsequent gaslighting and victim-blaming response from SASSA and government departments – which argued that the use of violence against those in queues was for their own safety – only confirms this.
For this reason, SASSA and the Department of Social Development must be held accountable and charged with alleviating the situation as soon as possible.
We echo the calls from Black Sash, imploring the Minister of Social Development and SASSA to act decisively to bring an end to vast crowds of claimants at SASSA offices around the country.
- Communication with claimants, who remain confused and are turned away after travelling long distances to offices, needs to be drastically improved.
- The process for renewing disability grants and the future of the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant need to be streamlined.
- It has been confirmed that a considerable amount of the budget for disability grants is still available. It makes sense in these unprecedented circumstances that disability and care dependency grants and the COVID-19 SRD grant be extended at least a further three months until the end of March 2021.
- SASSA and the respective metros must resolve the current public dispute regarding access to community halls for SASSA service centres in their jurisdiction.
Many of SASSA’s mobile services have also been closed due to COVID-19 and it has been reported that SASSA staff are working at only 50% capacity. This is outrageous at a time when a backlog of over 19 000 unprocessed applicants was reported in October 2020. Combine this with the added 210 000-plus recipients now needing to reapply, the system is set up to collapse at a time when people need support the most.
Government cannot on the one hand call for social distancing and solidarity and then on the other hand create conditions where the most vulnerable are robbed of the social protection needed to survive this crisis.
Issued on behalf of the Cash Transfers Working Group of the C-19 People’s Coalition by Gaby Sanchez
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