Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic broke in Wuhan China in December 2019 and spread across the world. Countries have been forced to lockdown economies as a safety precaution to slow down this rapid pandemic and save lives. This has placed severe pressure on struggling economies. South Africa has been on lockdown since 26 March 2020 and is currently on level four of the five- level phased-approach that government will use to gradually reopen the economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa has brought to sharp focus the disparities and levels of poverty in many of the disadvantaged communities who still live below the poverty line without access to basic needs and services. In his economic stimulus presentation, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that COVID-19 has really highlighted the depth of poverty in South Africa and the need for government to assist those in need, and he further called on those who can assist to also lend a helping hand.
Although Section 27 (1) (b) and Section 28 (1) (c) s of the constitution spell out the principlethat: “everyone has the right to sufficient food” and children have the right to basic nutrition” – long queues of people waiting to receive food parcels in communities like Olievenhoutbosch Township have been witnessed. Challenges of distribution reported by our paralegals could be an indication that the government is struggling to cope with the demand. The burden has been increased by the lack of income in homes of breadwinners operating in informal sectors like street vendors who have now had to stop because they do not qualify for the criteria to obtain a permit to operate.
Because of lack of food, vulnerable communities around the country have been seen queuing for food for long hours – while the government together with the private sector are trying to meet this demand, there has also been reports of corruption in the distribution of these parcels where municipal councillors are said to be using favouritism and political affiliation as a criteria for distribution. We spoke to some of our community paralegals who work in communities to find out if the assistance of food parcels has reached their communities.
Lindokuhle Macuacua from Kwadlangezwa Advice Office says, unfortunately, the Municipal councillors in his area of Port Dunford refused to work with Non-Profit-Organizations like his, and instead works according to their preferred patronage lists of people and families. This strategy leaves out a lot of families who are really in need who would otherwise be known by NGOs because they work closely with communities. Noma Tshabalala from Ficksburg Community Advice office says they have also witnessed the unfairness in the distribution of these food parcels when councillors only gave food to people who belonged to a particular political party – she adds that people in this community have been struggling before COVID-19 and that their problems have since worsened as they cannot do piece-jobs to survive. Noma says that a lot of people did not receive parcels when ten councillors distributed these around Meqheleng, adding that it would be better for government to work closely with them as they have the data and list of families in need through the means-tests that they conduct when clients come to consult with their office.
We also spoke to Msizi Miya from Zanokuhle Advice and Resources Centre in Bergville where most people are social grant recipients: He says this has been a challenging time for people as most of them cannot go to work, others work in farms and have unfortunately not been able to go to work. Msizi says the ward councillor and convener of the area were recently busy with allocating parcels but there was favouritism that left most needy people out including people in home-based care facilities. He says he has been getting a lot of calls from community members asking him when they’ll receive the food parcels and as a result, his office is working very hard with faith-based organizations in the area to seek assistance.