Lockdown continues, which means not many of us are getting out much at all. But there’s relief on the horizon. Sadly, not a lessening of restrictions (though that would be great), but literal relief, for the country’s poorest by way of the SASSA (South African Social Security Agency) R350pm COVID relief grant. And, provided those poor folks have access to a smartphone — as much of the country does — nobody has to go out and apply for it.
The start of relief
The temporary grant, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa as part of the R500-billion economic and social relief measures to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, will see recipients receive R350 a month for the next six months. That’s from May to October this year and it applies to those unemployed, over the age of 18 and who receive no other forms of government assistance, including UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) or NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) support.
As usual, though, it’s the tech that we’re really interested in. Applications for the SASSA social grant begin today in Gauteng before spreading to the rest of the country. It’s how the grant will be applied for that has our attention. GovChat, the country’s “…largest civic engagement platform accessible online”, is handling that with the majority of communication concerning the grant taking place via a WhatsApp bot.
Getting set up to use the bot is surprisingly simple, though it’s taking a little while to respond at present. Qualifying South Africans just need to add GovChat as a contact in WhatsApp, using the phone number 082 046 8553. Once that’s done (you’ll see a blue-and-white icon), you’ll be able to start your application process by sending the word ‘SASSA’ to the bot. When it’s functional, that is.
We’ve tried the bot out and it’s not responding as yet. Whether that’s a volume issue or because applications for grants haven’t opened yet today is something we’re not sure of but we’ll have an update on the process as soon as everything is properly live or a response has been received on our end. [UPDATE: It seems to be a volume issue.] There are other ways to speak to GovChart, though, including Facebook Messenger, SMS and USSD. We’re, obviously, not actually going to be applying for the grant. Just… seeing how it all works.