Scores of Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) applicants stand anxiously in long queues at the labour centre in Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg.
Applicants wearing face masks clutch onto their documents as they watch the slow-moving queue. Some pass the time by listening to music on headphones. Others sit in the sun on the pavement while waiting for their turn. No-one speaks.
TimesLIVE visited the centre this week. A wooden table with a labour department official is stationed at the gate at the centre. Every person entering the centre has to sign in at the register.
One of the people in line, Wesley Takalani, said desperation forced him to stand in the queue at the centre.
“Our circumstances forced us to be here,” he said.
Takalani said he worked as a security guard for a company servicing the Wanderers Club in Illovo for over two years.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa implemented the nationwide lockdown, the company told Takalani he needed to take all 21 days of his leave.
“When I returned after my leave, they said the business was getting affected by the situation. I was one of the people they let go,” he said.
The father of an eight-month-old baby boy said he was retrenched on June 1. Currently he earns R300 per week as a part-time taxi driver.
“If it wasn’t for my wife’s job [as a call centre agent], I would have been forced to go back to Limpopo. I’m lucky because my landlord is a good person and understands when we can’t pay the rent.
“The only hope that I have is that some security companies are still recruiting, so I am hoping that I will get lucky. It’s all about faith.”
A primary schoolteacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said she and her mother walked in the cold from Newlands to the centre.
“I came here to ask today what is going on, because my boss doesn’t even bother to find out. She promised that she submitted our claim at the end of March and that will take about 90 days, but we haven’t received a cent.
“You pay UIF every single month — for what?”
Before being retrenched, she said she was earning R4,000 per month.
“We have gone from pillar to post to seek help. We have applied for the R350 benefit but haven’t received anything. We have gone as far as applying for food parcels and so far we haven’t received any form of help or support,” she said.
“Last time, someone told us that a church was handing out food parcels at Hillfox [shopping centre], so we walked all the way there — just to find that there was nothing.
“I think it is really unfair that only some people in our community get help and not us.”
Jaffrey Sebogo, 59, said he lost his plumbing job on June 19. He had been working for the company since 2012. The father of three is his family’s sole breadwinner and earned R1,650 every fortnight.
“I feel very bad and we are suffering a lot. We don’t even have anything to eat. My wife doesn’t work as well. We don’t have anything. I have been coming to the labour centre every day, without any success.
“I walk in the cold till here and wait in these long lines. When it gets to 4pm we are told they are closed, then we have to return again the next day. It is one painful process.”
Shabir Haniff, a former clerk in Parktown, said this will be his first UIF claim in 48 years.
The 68-year-old said he was close to retirement when the Covid-19 pandemic “put an end to his work”.
“This is my first time applying for unemployment benefits and I don’t mind waiting in the queue, because in life there is queues for everything. Even if the gates close at 4pm, I will be back tomorrow, hopefully we will get something sorted out. We just have to be tolerant and have a lot of patience.”
A 28-year-old man, who asked not to be named, said he lost his job at the end of March. He had worked as a cleaner for a company in Braamfontein.
“I only received my UIF forms from my employer in June. I was busy trying to get a new job in the meantime, but I haven’t really had any luck. It is very bad — especially when you are a man and need to provide for your family and siblings,” he said.
“I’m hoping to get the UIF money and go do my driver’s licence. Maybe I can get a better job with a better income if I have a licence.”
Provincial labour department spokesperson Mishack Magakwe said the long queues are due to a staff shortage.
Magakwe said only a third of the staff were working. He said some centres were also forced to close after two officials tested positive for Covid-19.
“We also had a fair share of load-shedding, which impacted on our operations. We are painfully aware that the closure of some of our offices means overcrowding and long queues at the neighbouring ones, hence we asked our clients to be little bit more patient,” he said.
“While we mention long waiting times, as brought by the demand for service, we are confident in the capabilities of our dedicated staff members. We also encourage clients to use our online services and drop boxes.”