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Grandparents spend their pensions to feed entire families as food crisis hits hard in Eastern Cape

Grandparents spend their pensions to feed entire families as food crisis hits hard in Eastern Cape
Ederly man Jongilizwe Gwala (70) walking to Chris Hani Park streets to sell his metals in order to make extra money for food in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

As Eastern Cape communities are hit by spiralling food inflation and unemployment rates of 42.4%, the province’s elderly residents are using their state pensions to look after families in crisis and often have to rely on loans in the last weeks of the month.

In Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, pensioners are selling scrap metal for food as whole families rely on their grants to survive and the cost of food often leaves their cupboards bare before the end of the month. 

The grandparents insist they will sacrifice what they have to for a better future for their grandchildren. 

“We love them and we want to make sure their future is safe and not going to suffer like us,” said Nombembe Nolusapho Olivia (70), the recipient of an old-age grant. She said her monthly pension of R2,080  must go very far in her household. 

“My granddaughter is attending school and I am paying school fees every month and they need to eat and we also need to eat,” she said. 

Olivia and her family live in a dilapidated shack in Mthatha. She said though she received a grant to care for her grandchildren as well, she was trying to save to build a better house for them. 

“This shack is not safe. We don’t have food. Our young children are eating yesterday’s pap.” 

She said that because none of her children is working, the whole family depends on her grant. 

A group of elderly people queueing outside Mthatha Post Office to collect their old age grant money in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. (Photos: Hoseya Jubase)

‘A lot of responsibilities’

Jongilizwe Gwala (70) who sells metal to make extra money for food, said the government has done a good job by providing them with old-age grants. 

“But we have a lot of responsibilities because the children are not working. I am selling these metals so that I can get something to eat,” he said. 

Nokwakha Makhalima (58) said that in the days after she receives her disability grant of R2,080, the family sleeps with full stomachs. 

“But in the middle, like now, we are struggling. Even the children can’t get food. In this house, all of the people are unemployed and we all depend on this grant to survive. 

“We are assisting each other. Our children are not working. The grant money is all we have. 

“We have to pay the scholar transport and the school fees for the grandchildren. When we finished everything we have, we go to the loan shark,” Makhalima said. 

The latest report released by Stats SA two weeks ago using 2021 data showed that even two years ago the rising cost of living, coupled with an ongoing energy crisis was making food expensive and inaccessible to many and increasing the number of people and households experiencing food inadequacy and hunger. 

The report used data obtained from the census carried out in 2021. 

“Results indicate that out of almost 17.9 million households in SA in 2021, almost 80 percent (14.2 million) reported that they had adequate access to food, while 15 percent (2.6 million) and 6 percent (1.1 million) stated that they have inadequate and severe inadequate access to food, respectively,” the report reads. 

More than half a million (683,221) households with children aged five years or younger reported experiencing hunger in 2021.  

According to the Stats SA report, in the Eastern Cape, 12.7% of households had insufficient access to food. Of these, more than 55,000 households had children who were experiencing hunger. In the province’s metros, there were 1,862 households without insufficient food in Nelson Mandela Bay and 5,832 in Buffalo City. In rural areas, 47,547 households were identified as not having enough food.  

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), world hunger numbers had increased by 150 million since 2019 (pre-Covid-19) to 828 million people in 2021. The FAO has identified Africa as one of the worst-affected continents.  

Nombembe Nolusapho Olivia (70), one of the old age grant beneficiaries, feeding her granddaughter with the day before’s food (pap) at Chris Hani Park in Mthatha West, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Elderly grandmother Nombembe Nolusapho Olivia (70) standing outside her shack house in Chris Hani Park, Mthatha Eastern Cape. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Social Relief of Distress grant

A joint statement issued last week by Black Sash and the Institute for Economic Justice criticised the government for failing to address issues that were impeding access to the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant despite new regulations being introduced in April 2022. 

“Civil society and like-minded organisations have consistently asked the government to ensure that all adults who live in poverty receive the grant, which will allow beneficiaries to meet their basic needs and safeguard them against hunger. People should be able to access the grant without struggling with onerous criteria that are exclusionary by default,” the statement reads. 

Civil society groups including the Alternative Information and Development Centre, Black Sash, the Children’s Institute at UCT, Cosatu, Institute for Economic Justice, #PayTheGrants, Social Policy Initiative, Women on Farms and Youth Lab have formed a Universal Basic Income Coalition to continue to support the call for a basic income grant.  

The coalition has been calling for the monthly SRD grant amount to increase from R350 to at least the monthly Food Poverty Line of R663 (in 2022 rands). 

“The scale of the unemployment crisis is such that there is no prospect of the majority of the unemployed finding work in the short term, underlining the critical need for social security interventions to be expanded. 

“In quarter four of 2022, Stats SA recorded that 11.8 million people were unemployed, with the vast majority of them being long-term unemployed. Even if we only consider those who are unemployed according to the narrow definition (excluding discouraged work seekers) 78.3% of them are long-term unemployed. 

“Poverty, inequality, and unemployment are the most profound crises confronting democratic South Africa. A comprehensive response to our socioeconomic crisis should include effectively implementing job creation programmes, supportive economic and industrial policies that stimulate job creation, and providing quality basic services in conjunction with permanent basic income support.  

“Rather than addressing South Africa’s hunger crisis, Treasury is choosing to prioritise reducing the country’s debt more aggressively than is necessary. 

“In the latest amendments to the SRD regulations, Treasury has added a clause specifying that payments are limited to the budget appropriation for this year, thus ignoring the concerns raised by civil society, that the budget allocation is far too low to even reach the group of people living below the food poverty line, as indicated by government’s own statistics,” the statement said. DM/MC

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