UIF offices inundated as the reality of the 21-day lockdown sets in

The reality of a 21-day lockdown hit many South Africans hard on Thursday as they rushed to queue for unemployment benefits, ID documents, birth certificates and other essentials.

The Cape Town Labour Centre was inundated as hundreds stood queuing to hear whether they would get some relief from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) after being told their places of work would shut down and they would not be paid.

"I’ve been here since half past five in the morning just for UIF and I’m worried whether I am going to get this money or not. It seems like they’re ignoring us because no one came to us to explain, and the line is not moving," said a frantic Phikolomzi Nakani, a restaurant worker who doesn’t know how she is going to make ends meet over the next three weeks.

WATCH |Taxi drivers to feel the financial pinch during 21-day lockdown

Nikacia Andrews is another worker in the hospitality industry, who will be left destitute because she won’t earn any commission.

"It’s going to be a bit hectic because we are closing down. We don’t have any sort of income because I work on commission and we don’t get paid per hour. So, like my manager said, the government is paying us just to keep us on our feet until everything is under control."

Travelled

For many, it’s not their first visit to a UIF office this week. Many travelled from outside of Cape Town to the CBD as their local centres were crammed to capacity and unable to serve everyone.

Those waiting told News24 they were at their wits end as the lockdown was sprung on them last minute, forcing them to now stand and wait for hours in queues.

Nolusindiso Nzuzo said she was frustrated because her employer, a furniture company, informed her on Wednesday that her contract would be terminated prematurely and she would receive no pay.

"Our contract is supposed to end at the end of July, but they terminated it immediately yesterday (Wednesday) because they say they don’t have the money to pay us because of the lockdown. We don’t have money and we are going to stay at home for 21 days. What are we going to eat without money?"

ALSO READ |How the lockdown will affect the informal market sector, for both buyers and sellers

Government has allocated R30 billion to a special National Disaster Benefit Fund, which will pay UIF benefits for up to three months for those who have lost income as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The monthly payment will be up to R3 500.

UIF spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi told News24 that all their regional offices would be closed during the lockdown. Only staff at the head office would be working.

The UIF was not the only government building to experience queues. The Home Affairs office in the CBD also saw long lines snaking down Barrack Street.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday night, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said while temporary IDs, birth certificates and death certificates would be issued, people who applied for new IDs would be turned away. Those applying for marriage certificates could also forget about holy matrimony over the next three weeks.

Workers would have to apply for benefits using the online platform at www.ufiling.co.za.