Times Select 06 May 2020

Promised food relief has still not reached 25 desperate families in Centane in the Eastern Cape, two weeks after the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) and provincial social development department promised to deliver.

Even the new caregivers Sassa promised would be registered in the wake of beneficiaries dying have not been processed. They will have to wait until Monday, when Sassa offices reopen.

As if that is not enough for the affected families, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane has instructed the provincial treasury department to conduct a forensic investigation into allegations against the provincial transport department for “the improper conduct in the expenditure for the funeral service of the Centane bus accident victims”.

Mabuyane, however, has not given a timeline as to when the investigation should be completed.

Two week ago, Sassa and social development delivered food parcels to the families of four of the 25 victims in Cebe village, undertaking to return with food parcels by the last week.

This week, they still could not indicate when the deliveries would be made.

Two weeks ago, The Sunday Times reported that villagers were running out of food, as many of those killed in the accident were on their way to collect social grants.

The lockdown, meant to stem the spread of the Covid-19, also stopped the little economic activity there is in the villages.

Abongile Cakatha had to leave her job as a security officer in Cape Town to take care of her 20-month-old son, after her mother, Alicia Cakatha, 60, died in the accident.

Her mother was registered as the primary caregiver, so no grant has been forthcoming.

“My son will starve if government doesn’t fulfil their promise of delivering food parcels. They have never called us. We have never seen our councillor in the area,” she said.

Cakatha has little faith help will reach them. After her mother’s death she earned some money doing a neighbour’s laundry, but has been unable to do so since lockdown.

Ntomboxolo Mnqomevu left her home just after the accident to go and live with her sister, Zameka Mzotyana, in Cape Town.

“If I had stayed behind after the funeral I would have died of hunger,” she said.

Their sibling, Mandisa Mzotyana, 74, died in the crash.

On Monday, Malibongwe Magusheni and Mjeyile Papa used the only money they had to travel to Centane to check if they had been registered as new caregivers. They hadn’t.

Magusheni, who regrets allowing his wife to travel on the bus, is not sure if he will ever be registered as the caregiver of their six children.

“This new increase by the president is just a pipe dream for some of us,” he said.

Sassa spokesperson Luzuko Qina said they had applied for a cash disaster fund for the 25 families and only provided them with food parcels for March.

“If there is a need for other food parcels, social development must provide Sassa with a report. As far as I know we have no obligation to provide further food parcels,” he said.

When asked if social workers had assessed the families, Qina said: “It is not our (Sassa’s) responsibility to check if these families need help. Ours is to accept a report from social development. Based on such report, then we act.”

Last week, Qina said new caregivers would receive their children’s monthly grants in May, but changed his tune this week, saying Sassa offices were still closed.

Asked to elaborate on why the caregivers were not yet registered, he said: “How do you expect them to be registered when our offices are closed. We will do that next week when our offices open.”

Two weeks ago, however, Qina said: “Sassa has processed applications for all 25 families for a cash disaster fund. Sassa, as a caring organisation, has approved and committed to provide food parcels for three months and will extend it up to six months, subject to a social worker’s assessment report.

“In so doing, Sassa is ensuring that children are not subjected to undue hardship.”

Social development spokesperson Gcobani Maswana said they were not sure when the families would receive food parcels.

“We are awaiting internal processes to be completed. A tender has gone out for food parcels and we are waiting for that process,” he said.

This is contrary to what he said two weeks ago — that the families would receive food parcels “in days”. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced an increase in the child support grant, a number of other grant increases and a new way to distribute food aid as part of government’s R500bn plan to boost the economy and relieve social distress caused by lockdown.

He also announced the rollout of food assistance in the form of vouchers and cash transfers by Sassa.   

* Last week, Times Select reported that the roadworthy certificate for the bus that transported the villagers on that fateful day had expired at the time of the crash.

The owners renewed it a day after the horror accident and now an investigation is under way to determine how the company managed to do so.

This was revealed in a Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) report seen by Times Select. 

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