Child Hunger

‘Our lives are very difficult’

By Maverick Citizen 12 June 2020

A child eats Easter treats, as hundreds of South African children wait to receive Easter packs containing easter eggs and other foods from the Groundbreakers community feeding program in Ocean View, Cape Town, South Africa 13 April 2020. (Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA)

Sibongile (not real name) lives in the Bhakabantu area in northern KwaZulu-Natal. She lives in a household with seven people including her 41-year-old mother, who receives a disability grant and child support grants for two of the children in the household but spends very little money on the family.

SECTION27 and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have approached the court on behalf of a number of learners, parents, teachers and school governing bodies in an attempt to get the government to feed millions of children who have gone hungry since the schools closed during the Covid-19 lockdown.

It was hoped that, once schools started re-opening, the school feeding schemes, which are planned and budgeted for, would resume in full. However, the Minister and the Department of Basic Education have opted, for now, to only feed Grade 7 and 12 children.

SECTION27 and EELC have filed a number of affidavits on behalf of their clients – Equal Education and the School Governing Bodies of two schools.

Maverick Citizen has been given access to affidavits from the SECTION27 and EELC clients and they make for harrowing reading. They tell a story of extreme hunger and poverty, but also of a government that has to be dragged to court to compel them to feed children who desperately need one meal a day, who have no source of food other than the school feeding scheme.

Learners’ affidavits, particularly, make for stomach-churning reading, but it is important to read their stories to try to understand the lived realities of people in small, off-the-map, far-flung villages in South Africa. People, even worse children, going hungry in South Africa is unforgivable. It is also important to pay tribute to the bravery of teachers, parents, school governing bodies and learners who are speaking out despite being fearful of intimidation and losing their jobs.

We publish extracts from 15 affidavits and even though these documents will become public in the courts, SECTION27 and EELC requested that we do not identify their clients by name for fear of intimidation.

Affidavit 9

‘Our lives are very difficult and have been made even more difficult by the suspension of school feeding.’

Sibongile (not real name) lives in the Bhakabantu area in northern KwaZulu-Natal. She lives in a household with seven people including her 41-year-old mother, who receives a disability grant and child support grants for two of the children in the household but spends very little money on the family.

“She spends most of the money she receives from grants on traditional healers. There are two children in our household who attend school: A girl in grade 5 (aged 13) and a boy in grade 2 (aged 10). They are both recipients of a child support grant that goes to my mother. Other household members include a three year old boy who is not yet in school and my 20 month old daughter who does not have a birth certificate and cannot receive a child support grant. 

“Because I do not have an ID, I am unable to apply for any social grants, including the COVID-19 grant. In any event, I understand that my mother’s disability grant and the child support grants would also have prevented me from getting the COVID-19 grant. I have not benefited from any of the COVID-19 related social assistance programmes despite having gone to a social worker several times to request help. I have received no food parcels or donations during the lockdown.

“Buying food for the family is always difficult. There is a community health worker in the area who borrows money from my mother, doesn’t return it, and gives it to me so that I can buy food for the family. I sometimes do odd jobs like collecting firewood or cleaning for people in the area and can earn up to R1000 this way. I am also sometimes able to borrow money from other family members. All of this is uncertain, however. I do not have any steady source of income. 

“I use any money I get to buy groceries and other necessities. I usually buy about R500 groceries for the family for the month , including maize meal, beans, salt, soup and cooking oil. My mother buys samp when she receives her grant. We do not buy vegetables but get bananas and oranges from the trees at home. With any extra money, I buy school uniforms (when needed), nappies for my daughter, and I pay R50 for school transport. I often have to forego buying nappies, soap and other hygiene products to ensure that there is food at home. We usually receive clothes through an uncle who works in town. 

“The two school-going children ordinarily receive a meal at school every day through the National School Nutrition Programme. This meal is a great help to our family. The rest of our food lasts longer because we can get away with cooking only one meal a day when the children are eating at school. The food that the children receive at school is nutritious and is helping them to grow. 

“Since the schools have been closed, the children have not been receiving food at school. The groceries that I am able to buy have been finishing by the 17th of the month while they have been home from school. It has been impossible to keep the children and the rest of the household fed. We have not bought food for the home since the beginning of June.

“As a result of the lack of food and the fact that my mother is physically abusive, we have sent the children to stay with their father for the moment. I am hoping that he will be able to feed them.

“Our lives are very difficult and have been made even more difficult by the suspension of school feeding. We need the school feeding programme to start again so that the school-going children in our household can eat and the rest of us are able to make the food we can buy stretch further. DM/MC

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