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Editorial: Sassa’s misstep is beyond apology

Having to rely on others can be a humbling, even necessary experience for many. From a simple “hold the door please” to having your neighbour look after your children, we’ve all been there. The act of reaching out to others in our time of need is part of what makes us human and often informs our sense of belonging to a larger community, beyond the ones we have carefully constructed for ourselves.

The ability to reach out and have someone reach back to hold that hand shows a society that cares. And South Africa, like too many other developing countries, is a country that needs an abundance of care, a net to ensure the most vulnerable among us do not fall too far when faced with adversity.

Social grants form part of that net. The grants assist those unable to seek gainful employment, those who struggle to feed children, those who have spent their best years on their knees in homes not their own or whittling away in the bowels of the earth, their bodies mangled by their labour.

These people — often along with their unemployed or schoolgoing children and grandchildren — are the ones who rely on social grant to get by.

The R1 700 old-age grant or the R410 children’s grant are carefully allocated by recipients, those who are familiar with poverty, knowing well that missteps mean empty bellies or worse.

This week the misstep came — from the South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa). More than 700 000 people were left destitute for three days.

Sassa apologised for the “technical glitch” but does this repair the setback suffered by the countless number of people whose lives were affected? How far can you fall in the three days that you stood in line, having been forced to borrow money to pay the taxi fares to get to a collection point?

Furthermore, this technical glitch coincided with some of the coldest days we’ve experienced this year. The most vulnerable people in South Africa were left cold, hungry and without answers.

It’s important to emphasise that this cannot be ascribed to a simple switch from one system of payment to another. The most vulnerable suffered this week because our elected officials continue to shirk responsibility for their jobs. It is unconscionable. 

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