South Africa

Maverick Citizen: Food Editorial

Let the children starve?

Let the children starve?
Thabani (9) lives with his older brother (13) in one of Jozini’s villages in KwaZulu-Natal. His sister, Zanele, stays with extended family in another part of the village. Jozini is home to over a quarter of Umkhanyakude’s child-headed households, most of whom don't have enough food to eat. Photo: Black Star/Spotlight

It is not uncommon to see women, often elderly, with infant children sitting at road intersections begging for money. It’s hard not to be moved by the plight of both woman and child. It’s like witnessing a living, walking, crawling billboard advertising poverty, unemployment and hunger.


Yes. In South Africa it is estimated that 12 million people experience daily hunger (and not the hunger you feel when you forget to have breakfast). Official statistics tell us 27% of children under five are stunted by insufficient nutrition and 38% of children are at risk of “poor development”. As reported last week in Maverick Citizen, in some of our richest farm lands severe acute malnutrition stalks children.

Child hunger is a proxy for adult hunger.

Tomorrow is World Obesity Day, which people often associate with overeating. Yet in developing countries obesity and its twin, malnutrition, are evidence that hungry people often eat the cheapest, fastest food, the prime purpose being to stave off the hunger pangs, rather than meet the bodies’ developmental needs.

It seems strange that SA, one of the richest countries on the African continent, considered a middle-income country by the World Bank, is in this position.

It seems even stranger when we remind ourselves that the Constitution requires that the government takes steps to ensure that everyone enjoys their right to “sufficient food” and binds the government to fulfilling a child’s unqualified right to “basic nutrition”.     

However, strangest of all is the fact that research shows that one-third of all the food we produce goes to waste (that’s approximately 10 million tonnes a year) and that 70% of what ends up in our waste dumps is fruit, vegetables and cereal. 

For this, we are all to blame. 

Yes, the food crisis in SA is state failure, it’s negligence, systems failure, and corruption. But it’s also our loss of ability to love our neighbours.

Maverick Citizen believes we must fix the food system, but after last week’s Budget we also suspect that the government cares less and less about poor people or its legally binding human rights obligations. Black Sash, for example, points out that:

“The meagre R20 increase to the Child Support Grant to R450 per month does not take into account Statistics South Africa’s food poverty line, set at R561, which is the minimum amount of money needed to provide basic sustenance.”

But that’s a matter for another article. 

Right now there isn’t time to waste. 

So this month we are going to bring you a series of reports, starting today, about organisations and individuals who are working to end food waste and divert it to provide safe and decent food to those in need. We encourage you to read these articles and then think about what you can do. In addition, if you have ideas, or know of good initiatives, let us know so that we can share with our readers.

If we do this, practical campaigns to share food and prevent waste might become a way to rebuild trust and community, and to begin to build people’s power on the ground to insist that the government puts social justice first. MC

  • Mark Heywood is Editor of Maverick Citizen

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