CORONAVIRUS

Western Cape legislature gets a picture of protests, looting and hunger in ‘land of milk and honey’

By Suné Payne 25 April 2020

Since Monday, staff and volunteers have been assembling 9000 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 facebook page. 1 April 2020

Food security issues were discussed in the Western Cape legislature on Friday afternoon, where the province was described as a “land of milk and honey”, yet desperate people were not accessing food and allegations arose of officials dividing food relief across party lines.

Vulnerable communities are more at risk during the lockdown period, with the primary problem not being food supply, but access to food, according to Dr Dirk Troskie, Head of Business Planning and Strategy from the Department of Agriculture.

Briefing the Western Cape legislature’s Covid-19 oversight committee on Friday afternoon, Troskie described the Western Cape as literally “a land of milk and honey”. There was enough food for people living in the province. But food supply had become strained during the Covid-19 lockdown, with people’s supply chains no longer available and people lacking funds to access food.  Their research has shown up to 30% of produce is sold within the informal sector – and “also in those areas that are most vulnerable”. Food supply is complex, he said, and those who buy in the informal sector were unable to do so now as this sector was not formalised and deemed non-essential. 

“It is not that there is no food, but people cannot access it”, said Troskie, who added that the biggest concerns right now are vulnerable communities and the disruptions to the informal sector. 

The meeting on Friday with the department of Agriculture, Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) was convened following a decision by the committee to find out what was going on with food security during the extended lockdown. There have been various incidents of looting in the province and also allegations have been laid that some officials are playing politics with the distribution of food relief.

In various forms, the ANC’s Cameron Dugmore, African Christian Democratic Party’s Ferlon Christians and Freedom Front Plus Peter Marais asked the same question: since the pandemic could be around for a long time, could people buy seeds to start growing their own community and home gardens in order to feed themselves? 

Troskie said the rules were not set by the province, but their  interpretation of the current lockdown regulations was that selling of seeds is permissible. However, Troskie said he was not aware if supermarkets were making seeds available for sale.

Members of the legislature expressed concerns after the MEC for Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, said the department had only 50 000 food parcels across the province to help vulnerable people during the 35-day lockdown period. Addressing the claims that food parcels were distributed along party lines, the MEC stated that “food relief must be apolitical and non-partisan”. Thus far, according to the department’s presentation before the committee, the department’s 92 community-based feeding schemes have provided  12 084 vulnerable people with food relief during the lockdown. 

Henry de Grass, Acting Regional Executive Manager for SASSA, told the committee that in the coming week, the agency will provide  3 128 food parcels throughout Western Cape. 

The department is providing food parcels to the following people: 

  • Beneficiaries whose social grant applications could not be completed due to the lockdown 
  • Beneficiaries whose temporary disability grants lapsed in February, March and April. In the Western Cape, there are 12 000 beneficiaries whose grants lapsed
  • Households with no income 
  • Social grant beneficiaries who cannot collect grants due to administrative functions such as lost cards, failed banking verification etc

But the manager said he didn’t get additional funding specifically for Covid-19 relief, and would need to shift funding allocated for school uniform provision to cover the costs of food parcels. 

In the meeting, most questions related to allegations that officials were only providing food relief to party supporters. Christians said his party had received complaints from within the Ceres area as well as Mitchell’s Plain, where people could not access food parcels because they were not part of the DA. GOOD’s Brett Herron said he was also getting complaints about people not being able to access food relief on the basis that they were not DA supporters.

The meeting was not without emotion and strain. Marais excused himself from the meeting after he became teary-eyed while talking about the desperation of people who were calling him for help. A woman had contacted him asking for help to feed herself and her family, but she could not get a food parcel because she was already receiving a pension grant and could not access a food parcel. Sniffles could be heard from Marais when he said that ultimately, he sent a cash transfer to the woman. He suggested that people be provided with food vouchers and cash vouchers, instead of “trucks coming to people’s houses showing that they are poor … Give people back their dignity”. He asked whether the department could investigate how to work with farmers who were unable to export their stock due to the lockdown,  as this could stock could be made available to vulnerable people. 

In her closing statement, Fernandez said: “It is as member Marais said, about the dignity of the individual. Be that as it may, we don’t live in a perfect world. The City of Cape Town did parcel distribution, SASSA did parcel distribution, DSD does, and there are many others.” She maintained that her department did not work along political lines, but gained information via municipal managers. 

“Sadly, with the extended lockdown, the hunger challenge has become even bigger,” the MEC said. 

At the meeting, the latest figures of Covid-19 for the Western Cape – which is now the epicentre of the country – were released. A total of 1 314 cases have been recorded and 28 deaths. Between Thursday and Friday, there has been an increase of 161 cases and 3 more deaths. 

 

On Thursday evening, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mhkize said the province had overtaken Gauteng as the country’s epicentre for Covid-19. “A further analysis is being done as we are observing outbreak clusters in the Western Cape. This means that a large number of people who operate and interact in the same area (eg, factories, shopping centres) are testing positive” said Mhkize.

Warnings of the storm to come were issued by the provincial Department of Health’s Dr Keith Cloete earlier this week. DM

 

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