Coronavirus Eastern Cape

Fistfights, despair and heartbreak as communities struggle for food

‘The lockdown is impacting very seriously on our community,’ said pastor Kenny Nonkonyana of Nelson Mandela Bay Township, Soweto-on-Sea. In the photograph above, staff and volunteers assemble food parcels at the Peninsula School Feeding Association warehouse in Philippi for distribution to needy households in the greater Cape Town area. (Photo: Peninsula School Feeding Association)

Violence, despair and fear are marking each passing day of the lockdown in the Eastern Cape as families, who mostly work in the informal economy, struggle to find food and fear being arrested as they move around to find something to eat.

A church’s mission to hand out food parcels in Soweto-on-Sea, one of Nelson Mandela Bay’s townships, descended into a fistfight this week as desperate people tried to get to the food.

“This lockdown is impacting very seriously on our community,” pastor Kenny Nonkonyana said. “It is a struggle for food and daily needs. We got food together to hand out and people started fighting. We had to leave. There were a lot of accusations that we were biased – and this from people who didn’t even know that we were coming. It is not many days after people got their grants and we are already seeing a serious shortage of food,” he said.

After declaring the outbreak of coronavirus infections in the country as a national disaster, President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered a national lockdown for the country severely restricting people’s movement outside of their homes.

“I can honestly say we are no longer struggling, we have simply given up,” spokesperson for the Unemployed People’s Movement in Makhanda, Ayanda Kota, said on Tuesday about his community’s struggle to gather enough food during the lockdown. “We hear about food parcels coming, but we haven’t seen any,” he said.

Linda van Oudheusden from the Missionvale Care Centre that fed 1,000 people a day at its soup kitchen, said staff had hatched a plan after the soup kitchen was closed to deliver food in containers to people’s doorsteps.

“We approach the house and put it down on the doorstep. We then step back and allow people to get their food and close the door. Then we take our container, sanitise it and continue to the next household,” she said.

She said they need hand sanitiser, masks and protective clothing for staff.

The Eastern Cape Social Development Department and the South African Security Agency started a drive this week for needy families to apply for food parcels in the Eastern Cape.

Reverend Victor Befile from the Lighthouse Community Baptist Church in Motherwell said they hand out soup to children, but have run out of vegetables, fish, oil and bread.

“We have asked our social worker to organise a permit for us so that we can distribute some food parcels to a few needy people,” he said.

Anne-Louise Oliver from Uviwe Child and Youth Services in Nelson Mandela Bay’s Northern Areas said:

“We use our skills and infrastructure. We work with informal feeding schemes and churches. We are offering our vehicle to pick up donations. There is such a big need for food. I believe this is true of every community. I am sure the Northern Areas are not unique. But it is a definite reality. The other day one of our social workers said her heart was breaking for the children who are knocking at our door and asking for food,” she said.

“Even if we hand out food, everybody is washing their hands in the same bucket and drying their hands on the same towel. I don’t think it should happen like that. We really need hand sanitiser,” she said.

Kelsey Jooste, a social worker who lives in the Northern Areas, said there is a desperation among people as the lockdown has interrupted their freedom to move around.

“I think for many people it is a habit to go out and ask here and there for money or buy a little bit of food. It is very difficult for them to now only go out once a week. They don’t work like that.

“One guy knocked on my door the other day and asked for something to eat. He said he knew about the lockdown, but there was nothing left in the house to eat so he was risking being arrested by the police. There are a lot of children coming round because they are used to eating at school and they don’t have food anymore,” said Jooste.

“We have a functioning homeless shelter that was set up for our area, but a lot of them have homes, even if it is just a little shack. They really just need something to eat. This is how they have been living for years, going out to get something to eat. The lockdown has interrupted this,” she said.

“Even people who get grants live day-to-day. The question they ask is, what is it that I need right now? It is not good to tell them to go to the shops once a week. People are quick to judge the long lines at our shops, but they must understand that this is our community’s habit. They don’t stock up. They buy what is within their means for that day.”

Jooste said the fear of having one’s movement restricted is almost more desperate than the fear of being hungry.

“People fear that they will be stopped from going out to gather their food for the day,” she said.

Community leader Anneliese Damons said she had filled in the forms for many needy families to apply for a food parcel.

“But even now we have read that most of them will not get any. I am heartbroken,” she said. DM/MC


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