WATCH: How pensioners survive on a Sassa old-age grant in South Africa



Published Oct 6, 2022


Many of the City of Cape Town’s pensioners are desperately dependent on the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) old-age grant.

“I say as long as we have a piece of bread in the house; we can live,” said 77-year-old Silvertown resident, Ursula Naidoo.

Pensioner Ursula Naidoo and her son, Leon Naidoo, queue for their grant outside a Shoprite supermarket. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

Naidoo depends on her Sassa old-age grant of R2 000 per month.

She and her son, Leon Naidoo, 51, share the expenses of their Silvertown home.

Leon has a mental disability and receives a disability grant of R1 980 per month, of which he gives her R840 towards the household expenses.

With their combined income, the mother and son can only afford to have a cooked meal of chicken once a week.

“My neighbour now the other day gave me stuff (groceries) to make soup,” she said as her voice broke.

For the rest of the week they eat sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and supper.

Pensioner Ursula Naidoo and her son, Leon Naidoo at their home after receiving their grant. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

Ursula purchased her house from her mother, which is now paid up. She is relieved she doesn't have to pay municipal rates, but says she struggles to keep the lights on.

Ursula, who did clerical work in the clothing industry before she retired, has lived in the same house since she moved there with her parents at the age of 5.

She married in 1967, had three sons but later got divorced in 1982. Her ex-husband remarried and died in 1995.

Leon supplements his income by selling sweets to the neighbours.

The well groomed Leon prepares for the day ahead.

With purposeful gestures and a look of concentration, he packs his stock into a bag, before heading out to his customers.

Ursula says life is a struggle and she stays home most of the time. At times she will stand at the front gate.

She also has a friend who is a neighbour and sometimes visits her during the day.

On August 2, Ursula was due to collect her government pension. That morning, Leon got up extra early to join the queue outside Shoprite in Gatesville, where other elderly people all converged for a common purpose.

After sunrise, Ursula headed out to meet Leon where he was holding her place in the queue.

She entered the shop to collect her pension at around 7.30am.

With pay-packet in hand, the two walked down every aisle of the store, carefully surveying all the items they needed and the ones they desired.

Leon carried the small bag of items they purchased as they left the chain store.

The following day he repeated the ritual when he was due to collect his social grant.

Ursula said she left the house to Leon in her will, but is concerned for his well-being in the event of her death.

Twenty kilometres away, Dane Herrington, 62 is a pensioner who lives in his 1984 Ford Sierra Station Wagon which he has had for 33 years.

The seats have been collapsed to create one compartment at the back.

Pensioner Dane Herrington says his grant covers his expenses until mid-month. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News/ANA

As he sits in the driver’s seat of his vehicle in the parking lot of Table View Library, Dane is surrounded by items one would normally find in the kitchen or bedroom of a typical home.

On the passenger seat is a pot and clothing items in a crate; on the floor, a plate and a loaf of bread placed on a bucket.

The upholstery of the seats are in tatters. In the cubby-hole there’s a glass, and on the dashboard, a plastic lunchbox.

Looking over at the back seat, the windows have been partly covered with makeshift fabric curtains.

Bags, a small square suitcase, clothing and blankets neatly folded in a plastic bag occupy the back area.

Underneath that, a grey blanket which looks like the homeless man’s sleeping area.

Pensioner Dane Herrington says his grant covers his expenses until mid-month. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News/ANA

Inside the Library, Herrington hammered away at the keyboard of a computer.

“This is where it all happens. This is my office. This is the work that I’m busy with,” he said.

Dane spends his days on the computer at the library where he works on a book about his life story, checks his emails and social media accounts.

Dane parks his vehicle in a parking area close-by where he sleeps at night and takes a shower at a petrol station in the same vicinity.

“I have to be up at 4am so I can go to the toilet,” he said.

Dane is dependent on a Sassa old age grant.

“The Sassa grant is not enough. Whether you are in a home or a flat, it’s a battle to get through (the month) and in my case I use the car every day, so it’s petrol expenses which has sky-rocketed lately. I don’t think very many people can get by with it.

“The grant only stretches up until about the middle of the month. Besides that, are the extras that I get from people that have been good and that have come forward to help where they can,” he said.

He spends up to R90 on food and needs at least R120 per day to survive.

He buys ready-made food from Checkers, Pick n Pay and Spar stores and says food is expensive and prices have escalated substantially.

He said he has to purchase ready-to-eat food because he is not allowed to use a gas fired stove to cook food in a public area.

“I am pleased that I have the grant. It has made a difference to my situation.

“The one problem I have with Sassa is (that) the whole procedure as to how a person gets sorted out can be a bit problematic.

“I had to go back many times before I could get the grant paid out and it was very frustrating.”

He added he was grateful, but the grant just wasn’t “enough to cover a person for a month”.

In the southern suburbs of Cape Town, is Vrygrond, a township Leane Klaasen, 85, calls home.

The frail, soft spoken woman’s Sassa old age pension has to support herself and her unemployed son, Marlon Klaasen, 38.

Pensioner, Leane Klaasen, 85 uses her pension to support herself and her son, Marlon Klaasen, 38. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

Also residing in the tiny one bedroom house is her older son with his wife and toddler.

He recently started working with a neighbour on a taxi and earns a small salary from which he also contributes to the household expenses.

The family has set up shacks for three backyard dwellers on their property. The income of R700 per unit subsidises their monthly income.

Leane and her family’s expenses include electricity, which comes to R600 per month, maintenance and repairs of the house and shacks on the premises, clothing, groceries and Leane’s medication for her asthma condition.

Pensioner, Leane Klaasen, 85 uses her pension to support herself and her son, Marlon Klaasen, 38. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

Marlon said the income doesn’t last for the whole month and once it is finished, they have to look to neighbours and feeding schemes to get by.

He said the typical grocery list consists of maize meal, rice, porridge and bread.

Marlon says, as his mom shakes her head in agreement: “The grant is not enough.

“Even if my mom was the only one she was supporting, the Sassa old age grant would not be enough to support her for a month.

“Sometimes I am worried. Sometimes there is nothing, like today there isn’t even a piece of bread to eat or sugar or anything.

“Then I have to go out into the street and ask neighbours for a bit of this and a bit of that.”

“I am hungry… I am hungry,” Leane said.

Sassa spokesperson, Mr Letsatsi said the current payment amount for the Old Age Grant is R1 980 for ages (below 75 years) effective from April 2022, and R2 000 (above 75 years).

“Sassa, as an Agency of the Department of Social Development, is tasked with disbursing social grants within the context of the available resources.”

Letsatsi said, (when applying for a Sassa old-age grant), “generally it takes an average of 5 days for applications submitted through face-to-face and 10 days for those submitted through online”.

For as long as this status quo persists, the elders in our community will continue to battle with hunger and poverty.