'Frustration and much-needed relief': How Sassa's R350 Covid-19 grant dominated 2020

29 December 2020 - 07:00
The monthly R350 Covid-19 relief grant has been the subject of controversy with delays in applications and payments.
The monthly R350 Covid-19 relief grant has been the subject of controversy with delays in applications and payments.
Image: South African Government via Twitter

The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) has been flooded with complaints about the execution of the R350 Covid-19 relief grant since its inception this year.

The grant was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in April at the height of the pandemic lockdown.

It was meant for unemployed citizens and qualifying foreign citizens during unprecedented times. However, since then it has been the subject of controversy with delays in applications and payments.

Here is a timeline of what transpired this year:

First delay

In May, just under a month after it was announced, qualifying recipients who had not received their R350 grant payment for May were forced to wait longer.

Sassa apologised for the delays, saying not all payments went through on the same day, but would go through at some point during that month.

“Payments were made from May 15, meaning not all payments will go through today but certainly this month.

“If you have gone through the application process, please wait for a response from Sassa. It takes a bit of time, but you will be contacted. We will revert to you whether your application is successful.”

Second delay  

In June, many frustrated applicants again expressed disappointment after not receiving their payments. 

Payments were meant to be made by the end of the month, but not every qualifying recipient received their money.  

In response to the backlash, Sassa said there was no fixed date for the grant payments.

“There is no fixed date for the Covid-19 special grant payments. Applicants will be paid for each month as long as they still meet the qualification criteria.

“Each month the application will be verified to ensure the applicant still qualifies for that particular month.”

Applicants 'feeling let down'

In the same month, some applicants expressed dismay with Sassa after the agency announced about two million applicants were yet to receive payment, or had been rejected.

The agency said some applicants were either employed or were receiving other government assistance, including money from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), social grants or other financial support.

“Sassa verifies all applicants by matching their data with other public and private databases to eliminate possibilities of double-dipping so only deserving applicants received this financial aid,” it said.

Basic income guarantee

In October, just a few days before the grant was meant to end, SA Communist Party (SACP) leader Blade Nzimande called on the government to urgently convert the grant into a “universal basic income guarantee”. 

Nzimande argued the grant was offering a survival lifeline to millions.

“The grant, which has been going to those who are not covered by pensions, UIF or as caregivers by the child support grant, must be converted as an urgent priority into a universal basic income guarantee,” he said.


In the same month, while still mum on the extension of the grant, social development minister Lindiwe Zulu promised to pay out all outstanding grants to approved applicants. 

Speaking on SABC News, Zulu urged those dependent on the income not to panic.

She said applicants who had been approved could rest assured they would receive their payments.

“Let me assure the public and the people who made applications that came out [showing] they deserve to receive the money, they will still receive that money even if the grant is ending.

“Those who deserve to be paid are still going to be paid because we budgeted for that and agreed we will extend payment to those who had applied,” said Zulu.


After growing demand for the grant to be extended, Ramaphosa, during his tabling of the economic recovery plan, announced the grant would be extended until January.

“We will be extending the special Covid-19 grant by a further three months. This will maintain a temporary expansion of social protection and allow the labour market sufficient time to recover,” he said.

“As these and other recovery measures are being rolled out, we need to do everything in our means to provide support to those in society who continue to face hunger and distress.”