Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu has told parliament she was the one who stopped the water-bombing of queuing SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) grant recipients in Bellville last Friday.
Zulu told the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on social development that, contrary to information in the public domain, she did not run away from the Sassa clients nor did she seek refuge in a police vehicle. She said she only got in theCasspir to use its loud-hailer.
She said she, along with Sassa CEO Busisiwe Memela, had been speaking to people in the queues and requested them to keep to the required physical distance.
“We never went to the police or anybody. Secondly, I only got on to the Casspir because we did not have a loud-hailer,” she said.
Zulu added that this was “to use the communication of the police”.
“It’s not because I was running away from the people,” she said. “This Lindiwe Zulu can never run away from the people. That one must be understood once and for all.”
Zulu said she only realised that the police were spraying people with water when she went inside the Sassa offices to have a meeting and also to give a press briefing.
“I, this very Lindiwe Zulu, asked the police to stop what they were doing because I didn’t think it was a good thing for them to do.
“I am clarifying publicly that this Lindiwe Zulu can never ask the police to spray the people, worse of all people with vulnerabilities, who are in wheelchairs, who are with children. I can never be found in a space like that,” she said.
She said the SA Human Rights Commission was dealing with the matter and that she was in touch with police minister Bheki Cele about the incident.
In her opening remarks to the meeting, Zulu said when she went to the Sassa offices, it was not only to look at how Sassa systems were doing, but she wanted to see the individuals in the queues and interact with them.
Memela apologised for the incident, saying the Bellville branch had to be closed last Tuesday due to a Covid-19 case. She said this had meant that the people who were there on Tuesday had to go back on Friday as that was one of the days Sassa attends to disability grant matters.
Opposition MPs questioned Zulu about her role in the spraying of people who were allegedly not adhering to social distancing while queuing to apply for the disability grant.
“I would like to ask the minister whether she believed water-bombing vulnerable people was the best approach. I would like to know whether this incident carried the blessing of the minister and if not, why did she note intervene?” asked IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe.
DA MP Alexandra Abrahams said there was no excuse or rationale for the use of water cannons on disabled people, pensioners and children.
She called for the committee to be furnished with the police report of the incident and their plans to assist in social distancing at Sassa offices in future.
Western Cape premier Alan Winde revealed on Tuesday that provincial police commissioner Yolisa Matakata asked the police to explain in writing why grant applicants were sprayed with water.