Food parcel chaos as the needy cry foul

Food parcels are handed out to students from Lesotho and Bostwana during national lockdown on 18 April 2020 in Pretoria. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

A number of Protea South residents want the government to stop distributing food parcels because they say the whole process is flawed and fraught with political interference.

Even as food parcels were being delivered to the “deserving”, a handful of people shouted profanities at the community leaders delivering food parcels to houses in Protea South on Sunday 19 April. 

Clearly incensed, the group shouted in Shangaan, “They are only delivering to relatives’ and friends’ homes. They are delivering at friends’ shacks. Those are their relatives.”

Some of the angry community members said they had registered for the food parcels while others said they had not registered because they were not told how to do so. Some said they were deliberately omitted because of their political affiliation.

Anxiety written all over their faces, community members were told to assemble at the Protea South community hall at 10am on Sunday to receive their food parcels. This move alone clashed with the government’s directives. 

Speaking on Talk Radio 702 on Friday 17 April, Gauteng acting MEC for Social Development Panyaza Lesufi said: 

“We want to do this in a dignified manner. We don’t want to strip people of their dignity by making them queue in community halls,” said Lesufi.

The food parcels ended up not being distributed at the community hall, although that was the initial plan. There seemed to be confusion among community members regarding the venue as some said it was the community hall while others said it was Almont Technical Secondary.

In the end, residents gathered at the entrance to Almont Secondary.

Community members turned up in droves and assembled near the gate to the school. They gave little or no attention to social distancing. As more people arrived, community leaders told those present that they should go back to their homes while back-up was being mobilised to control the crowds.

However, this instruction seemed to be contradicted by another immediate request by community leaders that residents should return to their homes, where the food parcels would be delivered. 

Some community members left but others were not convinced and remained behind, bolstered by the presence of former councillor Mapule Khumalo. Khumalo, who supervised a number of community projects during her tenure as councillor, was there as a community leader. 

Khumalo, who is held in high esteem by many community members, constantly intervened when it appeared that the process was being hijacked by political opportunists.

Community leader Itani Ratshitanda said there was political interference in the food distribution process. He said leaders of some political parties were being opportunistic.

“We have opportunistic community leaders from different organisations who misled the community by telling them that this is government food and that all people must go and get food parcels even if they never registered,” said Ratshitanda.

He said there were 500 food parcels for the 18,000 people in Protea South. Ratshitanda admitted the community would require many more food parcels and appealed for donations as he said the situation was becoming unbearable in many households.

A hungry 20-year-old Grade 12 learner, Eric Tivane, could not be assisted in getting a good parcel. Tivane clearly needed assistance because he could not register for a food parcel without an ID.

Asked what assistance he got from Ratshitanda or any of the leaders, Tivane said Ratshitanda had told him to wait until next week. For someone like Tivane next week is very far away. 

Tivane’s family returned home after his father fell seriously ill. From there on the Vuwani Secondary pupil has battled poverty. So dire is Tivane’s situation that a teacher at his school offered to take him in, but he could not desert the family home.

“I just need food so that I can be able to study. As it is, now I can’t study because I find it hard to concentrate,” said Tivane.

Before community members left the Almont school gates where they had assembled, a mini-truck carrying the food parcels suddenly appeared. The sight of the food at the back sent community members into a frenzy.

The truck driver was immediately ordered to drive away and would later receive instructions by phone on where to park.

The only requirement to get a food parcel, according to Protea South community members, is a South African ID document. This effectively means that foreign nationals are not eligible.

“We are going through an elimination process to get to those most in need of food assistance first. We will prioritise the weak, the vulnerable and those who do not get social grants,” said Lesufi.

But it seems that even though Tivane falls in this category, he has been ignored, and he was not the only one.

“It’s like they have their own group who must benefit. They always pass me in the street but never bothered to tell me to register for the food parcels. Today they are saying I need to be registered,” said community member Samuel Sekhobela, 49.

Sekgobela survives by doing piece jobs, which he said are scarce since the national lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Where are you taking our groceries?” community members shouted at the occupants of the mini-truck before returning to their homes.

All the while, cars belonging to some community leaders transported food parcels to homes in the township, provoking loud cries from those who were left out.

Puleng Motaung, a community member and awareness team member of the non-profit organisation Soweto Sukuma Sinqobe, said the ANC and EFF were manipulating the process for political reasons.

Motaung said despite being a member of the Covid-19 Sinqobe team, she was kept in the dark regarding the food parcel distribution. 

“It is wrong to phone people at their homes to receive the food parcels because that will open up the process to corruption.

“This is not affecting only grannies or specific people, it affects us youth too because we cannot go to Lenasia to do piece jobs,” Motaung said.

Ratshitanda denied that the team trusted with lists of beneficiaries was made up of only ANC members. He said the team comprised members from a variety of parties.

While the team might have included one or two people belonging to other parties, most were ANC members. When Daily Maverick spoke to some of them, they claimed they were volunteers.

“We don’t want to politicise this, that is why in Gauteng you will not find a councillor there,” Lesufi had said.

Added Motaung, “I know the disease is a killer but it’s best for the government to stop distributing the groceries.”

Said Ratshitanda, “People are impatient because they have been hungry for a while now.” DM


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