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Minister Lindiwe Zulu: Social relief measures to mitigate Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic

11 Dec 2020

Statement by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Lindiwe Zulu, MP on the occasion of the media briefing session on social relief measures to mitigate Covid-19 pandemic

Programme Director;
MEC of Social Development: Free State Province, Ms Mamiki Qabathe;
MEC of Gauteng Province, Ms Morakane Mosupye;
MEC of Social Development: Limpopo Province, Nkakareng Rakgoale;
MEC of Social Development: Mpumalanga Province, Ms Thandi Shongwe;
MEC of Social Development: Northern Cape, Ms Nontobeko Vilakazi;
Acting Director-General, Mr Linton Mchunu;
CEO of SASSA, Ms Totsie Memela-Khambula;
CEO of NDA, Ms Thamo Mzobe;
HODs and all senior managers here present; and
Ladies and gentlemen of the media.

Good morning and thank you for joining us for this briefing that seeks to provide you and the public with an update on the DSD Portfolio’s response, which form part of Government’s measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among the most vulnerable.

At the peak of the pandemic, the DSD Portfolio witnessed a growing demand for social protection services in the form of income support, food relief, shelter as well as psychosocial services, including care and support services for persons and persons with disabilities, amongst others. The lockdown period presented additional challenges to vulnerable individuals and households, many of whom were already struggling to meet basic needs prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Disruptions in livelihoods occasioned by sudden loss of income and unemployment meant that a new group of people were facing undue hardship had to be added to our social protection system.   

As Honourable MECs present here will attest, responding to the scale of the pandemic has been a challenge like no other, but I am pleased that the Portfolio is adapting and we are re-engineering our services to ensure that we respond with agility to the felt needs of our people.

The human cost of this pandemic remains unacceptably high, as the country has now recorded over 22 thousand deaths. Our workforce, which remains in the frontline has not been spared, with 1 743 confirmed infections and 36 deaths. Once again, we wish to express our deepest condolences to the families of the departed social service professionals and many other families across the country who have lost their beloved ones. 

In the midst of this pandemic, we have become even more acutely aware of the incredible contribution that social services professionals make to the wellbeing of our nation. We thank you for your dedication to service and humanity during these challenging times. 

We are greatly concerned that over the last few weeks the country has recorded a surge in the number of new infections. The stark warning by my colleague, the Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize about the second wave of the pandemic, is already underway in four provinces, with devastating consequences. As we head into the festive season, we urge all South Africans to stay safe by following all the COVID-19 protocols such as wearing of masks, washing hands with soap or alcohol-based sanitisers and observing social distancing at all times.

 Just like we worked together during the outbreak to flatten the curve, we must do all that we can to prevent the further spread of the second wave of the pandemic. 

 Programme Director, allow me now to briefly highlight some of the key policy responses we are currently implementing as a Portfolio.  

Early Childhood Development and Partial Care Facilities 

The value of early childhood development (ECD) and partial care facilities has never been more evident than during this time. For this reason, we are working with the sector through the Intersectoral Forum Following to address a number of challenges confronting this sector. These include the allocation of a stimulus relief package of over 5, 8 million by the National Treasury for unemployment risk support to 108 833 ECD related workforce.

This allocation will also support massification registration for unregistered ECD programmes identified during the Vangasali campaign, through which we have identified 52 185 ECD programmes. Phase 2 of the campaign is currently underway focusing on the massification of registration of ECD centres.

Despite the initial delays experienced with the processing of subsidies to this sector, I am pleased that provinces have since transferred over 94% of subsidies and the remainder will be processed before the end of the current financial year. With regard to the transfer of ECD function to the Department of Basic Education, we have set up various work streams advise in this process and we will update you in due course.  

On Foster Care:

We have made significant progress to implement the North Gauteng Court Order on Foster Care. The Social Assistance Bill was approved by the National Assembly in October 2020, meanwhile the Children’s Amendment Bill was gazetted for public comments.  

These two pieces of legislation forms part of the long-term legal solution to improve the foster care system in South Africa. Provinces are implementing provincial recovery plans to clear foster care backlogs. We will continue to work closely with Departments of Justice, Correctional Services and Home Affairs to address foster care challenges, as this requires multi sectoral approach.  

On funding of NPOs

During the first and second quarters of this financial year the Portfolio experienced delays in relation to transfer of payments to NPOs. This was due to the lockdown regulations, confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections and migration from BAS to Central Supplier Database.  To address this, the National Department issued a Circular to all provinces, with proposed measures to ensure continuation of funding to organisations.

The Circular further advised that in instances where Service Level Agreements (SLAs) were not yet signed or finalised, it was suggested that provinces should extend the 2019 SLAs for 6 until September in order to ease the transfer of first and second tranches of payments.

The Western Cape, Northern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces adopted the circular and they developed their circulars respectively. The non-payment and delays specifically for the first quarter payments were experienced in the Eastern Cape and North West Provinces respectively.  

To date, the first and second quarter delays have all been cleared, with the exception of North West, which is still experiencing technicalities with the Central Supplier Database. In other provinces, the 10 percent of NPOs which are not yet paid are mostly due to non-compliance, NPOs changing banking details and delays in submission of claims. Overall, provinces are on course with processing payments for the third quarter.  

On food Security

 The DSD Portfolio witnessed a massive surge in demand for food relief during the lockdown as people were stuck at home due to the disruption of their livelihoods and were not able to provide for themselves and their dependents. To address this, the Portfolio has distributed over 1.4 million food parcels that benefitted over 7.1 million people throughout the country.  

We are grateful to many corporate and charity organisations that partnered with us to ensure that no child or family goes to bed hungry during this time. Our centre-based feeding programme is now fully operational in all provinces and provide cooked meals to vulnerable individuals and households.

On NPO registration and compliance monitoring

There was an increased demand for registration of NPOs between April and September. One can deduce that this demand was driven mainly by the surge in demand for social services, especially in poor and vulnerable communities. During this period, we received 14 762 new applications for NPO registration. Of this number, 9 998 applications were processed while 7 669 NPO successfully registered.  

We intend to clear the backlog on NPO registration by the end of the current financial year. With regard to compliance monitoring, we are also exploring the digitisation of our services, with most NPOs now able to submit annual reports online.

On social grants

Since the declaration of the State of the National Disaster in March, SASSA has without fail, continued with the normal business of paying social grants without any major interruptions, including the implementation of the 6-month top-up grants that were announced by President Ramaphosa in April this year.

We have commenced with payments for December to avoid overcrowding and long queues at pay points. To date, more than 11, 4 million beneficiaries have received their social grants to the tune of R15, 5 billion. Between May and October, we allocated an additional financial support to over 11 million social grant recipients and the amount spent was approximately R31 billion.  

Processing of New Disability Grants 

One of the challenges that SASSA faced during the lockdown period relates to the processing of temporary disability grants as face-face assessments and closure of some of the health facilities. With the view to lessen the administrative burden on beneficiaries, I extended the payment of temporary disability until the end of this month.

About 210 000 temporary disability grants will lapse on 31 December 2020. We urge all those affected by the lapsing of this extension to promptly contact local SASSA offices for an assessment. Applicants are reminded to have a referral letter from the medical practitioner before they report to SASSA offices. SASSA is already working on a plan to ensure that those who need to re-apply for the temporary disability grant are afforded the opportunity to do so.  

Special COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant

With regard to the Special COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant, we have to date distributed R13.5 billion Rand to more than 6 million eligible beneficiaries. As a Portfolio, we are pleased with the Government’s decision to extend the provision of this grant for a further three months until 31 January 2021. 

Of the 9, 5 million applications processed in November, over 6, 9 million applications were approved and already paid. We are currently processing applications for December and we intend to process payments before the last week of this month. Of these payments, SAPO accounts for 4 million, 1,6 million are paid through personal accounts and one hundred thousand through the mobile money/ cash send platforms.

There is still a relatively small number of applications approved but not yet paid for the period between May and October. This is due to a number of issues, including information verification/ banking details verification while in other cases SASSA is struggling to locate the applicants as the contact numbers used during applications are no longer in use. The remaining one percent of the outstanding applications will be processed for payment as soon as we have completed the verification.      

We are aware of the current challenges experienced by applicants at SAPO Offices. I am working jointly with Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams to address current challenges experienced by applicants at SAPO offices. The CEO of SASSSA will provide more information on how we intend to deal with all the appeals we have received during the Q and A session.  

We are experiencing challenges with regard to a number of unclaimed benefits despite the fact they have been approved.  Currently, there are 40 584 unclaimed benefits mainly from the cash send or mobile payment option. The majority of applicants who opted for this payment channel have failed the cell phone verification process and this raises questions regarding compliance with RICA requirements. We have tried to reach out to applicants, with very little success. We therefore call on all applicants to collect their grants as this is intended to assist them to meet their basic needs.  

On fraud and Compliance Management:

We remain concerned by the large number of applicants who despite their ineligibility, knowingly apply for the Special COVID-19 SRD Grant to defraud the system. Over 3 million of such applicants were found to have other sources of income, including over 712 482 who were found to be receiving social grants, 605 466 were registered for UIF and 168 920 receive a NSFAS. Of major concern is that over eight thousand applicants were found to be using the personal partiulars of deceased persons. This is not only illegal, but criminal.  

Thanks to our investment in fraud prevention and detection, we are now able to act speedily to deal with suspicious cases and fighting fraud by working with other government entities and law enforcement agencies. Let me hasten to add that we will be instituting recovery measures for persons who may have illegally received the grants meant for the most vulnerable.  

Online grant applications 

COVID-19 has sparked considerable shift and has opened a new era digitising our services. One such area is the automation of grant application which SASSA is currently piloting. This will enable applicants to apply online without leaving the comfort of their own homes. The initial pilot is limited to applications for grants for older persons, foster child grants and child support grants, with the disability related grants being added at a later stage, once the necessary links with the medical assessments have been resolved.

The pilot commenced in September and has been running for a period of three months with checks and balances consistently being built into the system to ensure first and foremost, the protection of personal information. This is the first of many initiatives in the pipeline. It is important that we do not forget the key lessons we have learnt as we adapt to the “new normal”.  

On residential care facilities for older persons, drug treatment centres, shelters for survivors of Gender Based Violence and Femicide and child and youth care workers

The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children ended yesterday. The Department is implementing the 365 Programme of Action, with focus on expanding prevention and expansion of services to ensure survivors receive timely and appropriate services to avoid secondary victimisation. 

Department currently consolidating public inputs received for the Victim Support Services Bill, which advocates for a victim-centred approach  

We recently relaunched the Gender-Based Violence Command Council, which has been relocated to new and bigger premises. On average, the Command Centre deals with more than 200 calls per day. The new premises will accommodate a workforce of 30 personnel and creates opportunities for the recruitment and employment of social work professionals.  

The roll out of #Asikhulume and the Boys and Men Championing Change Programme, with focus on District Development Model  

Expansion of the Khuseleka One-Stop Centres in 6 provinces to ensure each has one that provides multisectoral approach to survivors of GBV to rebuild their lives and access justice  

As part of ongoing measures to implement Pilar 4 of the National Strategic Plan on GBVF, the department, in partnership with the NDA, has appointed 312 civil society organisations through the Criminal Assets Recovery Account (CARA) funding.   

With regard to residential facilities for older persons, the Department has forged partnerships with private sector and civil society. We have been able and continue to track and trace COVID-19 infections, recoveries and deaths within our residential facilities. Interventions such as hospitalisation, accessing medication, quarantine procedures amongst others are monitored on an ongoing basis.  

On secure care centres

All Secure Care Centres are Covid-19 compliant and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were operationalised. Cases of children detained in the secure care centres on compulsory diversion are also carefully monitored.  

With regard to sentenced children, all efforts which were implemented prior the lockdown such as early release of those eligible are cautiously being implemented. This is to ensure the promotion of an individualised response which strikes a balance between the circumstances of the child, the nature of the offence and the interests of society.  

On substance abuse 

South Africans generally overindulge in alcohol and illicit substances during this time of the year than any other. We are concerned about how this phenomenon as we in the midst of a global pandemic that thrives when we let our guards down. Such behaviours are likely to contribute to the new surge of COVID-19 infections and gender-based violence and femicide cases. To address this, we will be conducting the annual anti-substance abuse festive campaign, focusing on COVID-19 and GBVF hotpots throughout the country.  This national campaign is aimed at educating the country’s citizens, especially young people about the dangers and adverse effects of alcohol and substance abuse  

The campaign will be launched in Tlokwe, North West tomorrow during the official opening of the JB Marks Treatment Centre. This will bring the total number of public treatment centres to 13, with at least one in each province.

Given the devastating impact of alcohol on families, we support measures proposed in the Amendment of the Liquor Act, 2003 to amongst others, restriction of advertising, marketing, promotions and sponsorship of alcohol beverages. We also support proposals for the setup of the Special Fund to which the liquor industry will contribute a percentage of their net profit towards prevention and harm reduction, as well as further reduction of alcohol level for drink and driving to 0.02 percent.  

On job creation and economic opportunities

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred at the time our country was in recession. If there is a silver lining about this pandemic is that it forced us to think outside of the box and to find innovative ways to maximise the impact of our work and aligning it with the District Development Mode. The NDA set aside R32 million for 200 civil society organisations, including cooperatives to stimulate local economic development through the procurement of PPE and recruitment of volunteers in all district municipalities.  

This initiative has far surpassed our expectations as it created 2 000 job opportunities and gave our youth, who are the hardest hit by the current high levels of unemployment, opportunities to contribute to their communities while improving the livelihoods of their families. Looking at the number of Volunteers, I can safely say that more than 10 000 family members benefitted indirectly from the stipends. To date, a total of R6,1 million has been paid to participating CSOs and Volunteers. Eight of those volunteers in OR Tambo District were given 4-6 months temporary contracts as Social Workers under Victim Empowerment Programme in the Department and are receiving a stipend of R6 000 a month.  

The volunteers comprised of 1600 women and 400 men. Youth make the largest number at 1 750. To date, the programme has reached 181 171 households, distributed 73 581 Food Parcels and assisted 147 289   to apply for the Special COVID-19 SRD Grant.  In addition, the NDA availed economic opportunities to 16 women-owned cooperatives across all provinces to produce PPEs to the value of over R1,1 million for the Volunteer Programme.  

Older persons facilities

With regard to older persons facilities, visitations are prohibited except for relatives and under strict COVID protocols. New admissions will only be considered for older persons in distress, subject to strict adherence to COVID protocols.

We have partnered with the National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD) will continue to track and trace the Covid-19 infections within residential facilities. We take this opportunity to acknowledge the generous support of our partners to ensure that our older persons are protected from this deadly pandemic.  

On adoption and international social services

I would like to inform the public that we will continue to render domestic and national adoption services. However, the suspension of international adoption services will remain in effect until further notice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our society, and our sector in particular is still emerging, but what is certain is that it will be felt for many years to come. The increase in unemployment, homelessness, gender-based violence and femicide and concerns on the impact of the prolonged pandemic on mental health are some of the key emerging issues that threaten to exacerbate some of the prevailing social ills in our country.

As the impact of this pandemic spread across our country, the capacity of the DSD Portfolio to respond to match the full scale of the challenges, especially in protecting those most in need, will continue to be tested. This presents us with an opportunity to learn new ways of doing things and to re-imagine the DSD Portfolio. The last 6-months have been a learning curve for all of us and we have demonstrated how much more we can achieve when we work together. 

I thank you