Gogos stranded as taxis fail to operate for grant recipients

Sassa beneficiaries get sanitised before getting into the shop to collect their money at Nkomo village shopping center.
Sassa beneficiaries get sanitised before getting into the shop to collect their money at Nkomo village shopping center.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

As taxis failed to operate in Atteridgeville, many gogos and oupas on Monday were forced to walk to various social grant pay points.

Nkomo Village Shopping Centre was packed with the elderly, who stood in a long queue to receive their money and shop for essential goods.

Betty Matome, from an informal settlement called Marabastad in Atteridgeville, said government should have brought the Sassa payments to the recipients.

The 66-year-old says she fears for her life because of the virus.

“I am scared for everyone. The government should have just asked for our phone numbers and brought the paying machine to our houses to give us the Sassa money, because we don’t know if we are breathing in this virus,” she said.

Minibus taxi organisation Santaco on Monday met with the transport department over Covid-19 lockdown issues including safety measures in taxi ranks, arrested taxi drivers and impounded vehicles, and general compliance. A statement is expected on Tuesday.

Social grants are being paid to beneficiaries over three days this week.

Betty Matome shows Timeslive her shopping list as she stand on the Sassa beneficieries line on Monday at Nkomo Village Shopping center.
Betty Matome shows Timeslive her shopping list as she stand on the Sassa beneficieries line on Monday at Nkomo Village Shopping center.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

Matome, who lives in a shack with her grandchildren, said she kept the children busy by singing and playing indoors.

“We sit on our beds and sing and pray to God to help us. We ask him to forgive us our sins,” she said.

She had a shopping list of goods she was going to buy, but was not sure if she would be able to get everything she needed and wanted.

Kedibone Chauke, who arrived at the shopping centre at 6am to get her Sassa money, said she was given 20 minutes to shop at one of the stores.

“I just had to buy whatever I saw because I was given only 20 minutes to shop,” she said.

Johannes Kowane said he walked to the mall as there was no transport available. The 70-year-old said he was going to collect his grant and go back home.

“I am not going to shop today because there is nothing. The store has nothing; they are bought out,” he said.

He said that during the lockdown he would be indoors watching movies and reading.

Kristina Maema was worried about not having any transport to carry her groceries. The 61-year-old resorted to minimising her grocery purchase.

“We don’t know what we will use [to go] back home. We are so stressed. How will we carry plastic bags back home while walking? We just have to buy smaller things because there is no transport. We were not treated well at all,” she said.

The 61-year-old, who lives in Marabastad, said she had to make a transport arrangement in the morning to get to the centre.

“I had to ask my cousin's son to ask his friend to accompany me so I could work. I have to ask him again when I am done here,” she said.

Meanwhile, it wasn't only grant recipients who were left high and dry without transport. Many essential services workers also highlighted the problem when TimesLIVE spoke to them on Monday morning.

One of them, who asked not to be identified, said she was going back home because she failed to get transport.

The 34-year-old works as a hostess at a hospital in Pretoria. At 9am, she said she had been standing waiting for five hours.

“I have been standing for a long time. My four colleagues and I have tried to call my employer to tell them that the taxis are not operating today, but it seems like they don’t trust us. They think we have planned the whole thing. We even tried to send them pictures of the empty streets but they have not responded, so it seems like it will be no work, no pay,” she said.

The women commute via taxi to the Pretoria CBD from Atteridgeville daily, and said taxis had operated smoothly over the weekend.

“This is very painful ... they think we just don’t want to go to work. We even tried to get them to come fetch us but the response was that he [the employer] cannot come since we are saying there is a strike. But he had said before that if we ever get stranded we must call,” she said.

She said she was not going to work on Tuesday as it would be her day off.

Wilfred Sekuto, a 38-year-old security guard and five colleagues went back home at 10am after waiting for a taxi for more than five hours. He said he was going back home to sleep.

“There are no taxis but I don’t know what the problem is. Some say they were arrested for carrying a full load when they are not allowed to. I don’t know what I will do because I have to go to work. I always take a taxi here and get off in Pretoria CBD. Then from there I have to take another one to Lynnwood,” Sekuto said.

He also tried waiting for a company car to fetch him but eventually gave up.

“I am going back to sleep. My employer has been so understanding. They had told us that they would make arrangements for us to sleep at work but I don’t know what happened to the plan,” he said.

At least one e-hailing service driver stepped in to help those in need.

A 34-year-old Uber driver helps a commuter get her groceries out of the boot in Atteridgeville.
A 34-year-old Uber driver helps a commuter get her groceries out of the boot in Atteridgeville.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

The driver, who did not want to be named, said: “One old woman asked me yesterday [Sunday] to come to give her a ride to the mall so that she can go get her Sassa payment, so I did. But when I was on my way to go do my laundry I saw many people standing on the roadside waiting for taxis. So I said, why can’t I jump in and assist,” he said.

Born and raised in Atteridgeville, the driver now operates by approaching people who are standing on the road. He stops next to them, rolls down his window and asks where they are going.

Customers then negotiate for the price. When agreed, they are good to go. The Uber driver said it was also a way to make a quick buck for himself.

“I am just looking at everyone, they are stranded, there is no transport. For me, it’s also a quick buck. It’s like, I wash your hands and you wash mine,” he said.

When SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE spoke to him at 10am, he said he had already helped deliver more than eight gogos to the pay points.

“So far the taxi operators haven’t noticed me yet, so I am still operating smoothly. Some grannies asked me to come back and fetch them. They see that there is no transport, that is why they asked me to come and fetch them. I am travelling to every place,” he said.

He said the virus has made the world scary as travelling is prohibited.

“The virus has made our lives a living hell, now we are all struggling. It’s like the end of the world. You have money but you are not able to use it because you are locked inside your house,” he said.

He said he is also taking precautionary measures by sanitising his car.

“I also make sure that my car is sanitised. Per trip, I take two people or one because I also want to be safe. It’s a loss for me but I just want to assist. On the other hand, it is out of the goodness of my heart but also I am making an income,” he said.

The 34-year-old said he was also struggling since the pandemic and lockdown started because most people prefer using electronic payments rather than cash.

He said he will continue to assist passengers until the lockdown is over.

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.