South Africa

Food Justice


‘Slap in the face’: South African food-relief groups slam R50m donation to Cuba

‘Slap in the face’: South African food-relief groups slam R50m donation to Cuba
Danai Nhando (left), the country director for South Africa, and feminist Lazolo Kati outside the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Tshwane, where a petition calling for a halt to the R50-million donation to Cuba was handed over on 24 February 2022. (Photo: Marion Tanzer)

A pledge by the government to donate R50-million to help ease Cuba’s food crisis has prompted South Africans to ask how their country is able to do this while little is done to address the root causes of hunger at home.

A coalition of hunger-relief organisations has called on the South African government to immediately halt a R50-million donation to Cuba, and called for an urgent meeting with the government to set up an independent investigation into the causes of and solutions to hunger in South Africa.

The coalition – comprising 60 NGOs and more than 16,000 signatories from across South Africa – handed a petition to Clayson Monyela, acting director-general in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Tshwane, on Thursday.

This came after Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Alvin Botes, told a National Assembly briefing on 2 February that South Africa had “committed to allocating an amount of R50-million for special intervention for the Cuban people, who have experienced food security challenges because of the sanctions levelled against them by the United States of America”.

The donation, he said, was one of the initiatives by South Africa aimed at strengthening ties with Cuba and other countries.

The decision has been slammed by hunger-relief organisations, which step in to ensure many have access to food across the country, but don’t receive any help from the government. 

They ask how South Africa can donate towards solutions to Cuba’s hunger crisis when little is done to address the root causes of hunger at home?

Margo Williams of Hope of the Hopeless, an organisation fighting against hunger in Ga-Rankuwa, says: “It baffles me that R50-million will be donated to Cuba whereas within our own country there are many going hungry each day. I firmly believe that charity begins at home and the government should take care of people in South Africa before extending a helping hand to another country.”

For Hanneke van Linge of Nosh Food Rescue, R50-million could be used to support local organisations that are fighting hunger. 

“South Africa has a strong civic support structure pitching in to relieve hunger in its communities at their own cost. They could be bolstered with a bit of financial or material support. Even a small contribution would help in the short run, but we need long-term, systemic solutions to the issues underpinning poverty and food insecurity.”

Van Linge says the money can be used to fast-track legislation tabled in 2017 to facilitate increased access to surplus food.

Food relief groups such as The Angel Network and Londani Lushaka, which feed thousands of people and rely on private funding and donors, say a donation to another state while their work is not supported is a slap in the face.

“NGOs work selflessly to feed the nation without receiving any assistance from the government. The need for food has increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic as a result of soaring unemployment… It is an unfortunate situation that our work is not recognised or supported,” said Alice Modiri of Londani Lushaka.

According to The Angel Network, consultations and transparency between the government and NGOs must take place to find sustainable solutions to the poverty and hunger crisis in South Africa.

‘A reliable friend’

On the other hand, Supra Mahumapelo, chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, said the support for Cuba was an exemplary model of South-to-South cooperation. “We applaud the government for its consistency in supporting Cuba. We also thank the Cuban people for having fought selflessly during the struggle against apartheid. The relationship has grown into a collective ideological basis of resistance and social development that increasingly incorporates aspects of economics and health.”

Similarly, Professor Bhekithemba Mngomezulu from the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape, told Daily Maverick: “I am in support of this donation. This is a way of reciprocating for the support Cuba gave to the liberation struggle in South Africa, more especially to the ANC and the SACP. Since 1995, Cuba has trained many South African doctors. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Cuba assisted South Africa (and many other countries in Africa and beyond) through its ‘medical diplomacy’. In terms of international relations, countries do help one another for strategic reasons. As an important roleplayer in the SADC and the AU, South Africa has to demonstrate such a gesture.”

According to Mngomezulu, the gesture will portray South Africa as ‘a reliable friend’ who does not change the tune to appease certain individuals or countries. 

“Cuba befriended South Africa and risked being ostracised by other countries (including the US). South Africa needs to do the same, especially at a time when the number of socialist countries has been reduced significantly. South Africa has to maintain good relations with Cuba since we still need more doctors to be trained and Cuba has proven to be our best partner.”

In his recent State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa did not prioritise food security and solutions to hunger.

The government claims to be supporting the agriculture sector as a means to address hunger by focusing on the imperatives of food security and employment. Through the Agriculture and Agro-Processing Master Plan and Solidarity Fund, farmers are being helped to expand production, broaden the inclusion of black farmers and boost the sector’s competitiveness and ability to create jobs.

Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at Agbiz, has acknowledged the government’s intervention in supporting the agriculture sector through the master plan, but says the plan needs increased focus from the Presidency, line departments and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

The department needed “to engage with organised agriculture, communicate its turnaround strategy of this vital entity, and leverage private sector expertise. These need not be government activities alone, but collaborative with the private sector, with a shared vision and business case for private entities.”

The Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS), which specialises in research on food security and nutrition, says the government has tried to address hunger with social grants for more than 20 years – but it’s not enough.

While studies had found that social grants, “especially the Old Age Grant and the Child Support Grant”, had a positive effect on household food security and individual nutrition, they were not enough. For instance, grants reached two-thirds of all children in South Africa, but had failed to reduce child stunting to an aggregate level.

To help mitigate food insecurity, the centre suggested that the government:

  • Increase the Child Support Grant to the food poverty line as a minimum;
  • Redesign an improved social assistance programme that can be strengthened and sustained in the future;
  • Support the School Nutrition Programme to continue delivering meals to school-aged children after the pandemic; and
  • Establish a maternity grant to prevent in utero and intergenerational transmission of malnutrition.

The donation provoked banter on Twitter: “Government is donating R50-million to Cuba for food security but there are a lot of South Africans going hungry,” tweeted Ulrich Janse van Vuuren, a humanitarian and environmentalist.

Nick Hedley, communications specialist, tweeted: “What is the obsession with Cuba all about? We have food security issues in our own country that need sorting out.”

“Helping out Cuba isn’t the problem. It’s the fact that we’re doing it with borrowed money that was meant for our poorest that never really got there. We make loans and don’t help our own. Then give millions away. We are on a ship without a captain,” tweeted Khwezi Shange, an accounting science student at the University of South Africa. DM/MC


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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Change is Good says:

    We may be baffled by the R50m donation to Cuba, when feeding our own impoverished part of the population is being done by NGO’s. We should be asking who is receiving the money to organise this, who is getting a commission for doing these deals.
    The training of our students in Cuba and the procurement of doctors from Cuba have all been controversial. Can we trust that this is above board.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Supra Mahumapelo: “said the support for Cuba was an exemplary model of South-to-South cooperation.” He is famous for running the North West Province into the ground.

  • Lorinda Winter says:

    Bunch of idiots.

  • Louw Smit says:

    Apart from the obvious ‘commissions’ being paid along the line, the goal here is clear: The government publicly ‘donates’ the money to Cuba, who then in turn make a private donation to their friends, the ANC. Ergo, money laundering… A few months’ Lootfreely House staff salaries accounted for

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Communists look after communists!!!! The SA goverment has never understood ,Charity begins at Home!!!

  • Kb1066 . says:

    “When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Cuba assisted South Africa (and many other countries in Africa and beyond) through its ‘medical diplomacy’” – Right sure, we had to pay Cuba for this and they in turn did not pay the money to the Doctors. This is a well documented strategy being done by Cuba globally. It is an industry for them.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    This is a terrible strike against the NGO s who split guts to feed ever increasing hunger because our government is failing the poor. You can bet your last feeble rand that someone rich somewhere is benefitting.

    • Wendy Dewberry says:

      Its a well understood mechanism – giving countries broad education uplifts the entire economy. Giving the narrow medical facilites and training doctors comes across as wonderful and beneficial, but that type of “gift” does very little for the growth of the economy or the democracy of the people. Back handed help so our wealth can be exploited before our eyes. Of this, the ANC would know because its part of the African Renaissance parlance. Go figure

  • Jax Snyman says:

    We have come to accept that numeracy skills are not a prerequisite for Cadre deployment as evinced by our former president. The same appears to apply to basic geography for cadres deployed to positions in ‘international relations’ as well. Supra Mahumapelo’s moving of Cuba 21 degrees south is breathtaking in his ‘South-to-South’ cooperation defense of this donation. Clearly further confirmation of JZ’s assertion that ‘clever blacks don’t join the ANC.

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