Minister of social development Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Minister of social development Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu may be proud of the achievements of her department in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but opposition MPs are not impressed and called for her to step down on Thursday.

The DA, IFP and Freedom Front Plus in particular were scathing of the minister’s performance in the debate that followed her statement to the National Assembly on her department’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Zulu noted that of the 7.8-million applications received for the special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant of R350 per month for six months to end-October, a total of 5-million had been paid. These were those who were found to be eligible in terms of the criteria and whose information had been verified by government databases.

Zulu said applicants were being checked against databases to see if they were previously disqualified because they were already receiving government funding. These checks were continuously being re-run in the databases, and all those previously disqualified as a result of database errors were being reconsidered.

“As we do this, the number of applicants who are eligible for the special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant is increasing. In this regard, payments for the months of June and July — totalling R700 — have commenced, and about 1-million applicants in this category of applicants are receiving their payments,” Zulu said.

She pointed out that the Covid-19 social relief stimulus package had no equivalent in SA’s history both in terms of its focus on the unemployed and its scale. The  special Covid-19 grant “has uncovered the pitfalls of disjointedness and questionable integrity of the state’s databases”.

DA social development spokesperson Bridget Masango was not impressed by Zulu’s statement, saying that many who had hoped to receive the R350 grant to stave off hunger had been disappointed for more than three months since the scheme was launched. Several people complained that post offices did not have enough money to pay them.

“In the absence of a clear plan of action and given the minister and her department’s recent abysmal track record, the DA would put to the minister that she should offer an unconditional apology to the millions of South Africans who have been victims of her lack of leadership,” Masango said.

“After the apology, the honourable minister must do the honourable thing and vacate her position as the minister of social development,” she said.

IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe was equally scathing, criticising the corruption and theft that had plagued the expenditure of Covid-19 relief funds and listing the allegedly multiple failures of the department of social development to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

She said many had not been paid the R350 special Covid-19 grant and millions had not been able to access it because they did not have access to data or smartphones. If the minister could not do the right thing she should step aside, Van der Merwe said.

Freedom Front Plus MP Tamarin Breedt highlighted the “empty promises” made from the very start when the R350 grant was announced, with repeated delayed payments and millions still awaiting payment.

Meanwhile the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) announced on Thursday that Covid-19 grant beneficiaries can now choose how they receive their payments at a bank or a post office or through a money transfer.

“This development is a response to the challenges some beneficiaries have experienced in trying to access their special relief grant from post offices. The challenges reported include long queues and the fact that funds run out at times,” Sassa said in a statement.

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