Maverick Citizen

Food Justice

TUESDAY EDITORIAL

World Food Day – South Africa’s runaway hunger problem

World Food Day – South Africa’s runaway hunger problem
One in 10 South Africans goes hungry every day, which means in our population of 62 million about 12 million are hungry. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

The data is there, the case for the alleviation of hunger has been made, the proposals from activists and civil society are there. All that remains is for those who preside over the levers of power to stop turning a blind eye and act within the best interests of the country.

Imagine being a mother of three and not knowing what to feed your children or yourself because you are unemployed and have no means to provide for your family. Desperate, you turn to killing your children and yourself to stop the gnawing and dehumanising hunger. This is the tragedy that befell the Buso family in rural Eastern Cape, in August this year, prompting the leader of humanitarian relief organisation Gift of the Givers, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, to say: “Hunger is an insidious psychological, emotional and physical pain consuming parents as they lose hope and watch in anguish how their children and families waste away.” 

One in 10 South Africans goes hungry every day, which means in our population of 62 million about 12 million are hungry. What is even more worrying is that hunger is disproportionately affecting children – they make up eight million of this number. Hunger is linked to many societal challenges, chief among them poverty and unemployment. With South Africa’s unemployment at 32.9% and 55% of the population living in poverty, it is unsurprising that so many people go to bed hungry.

Yet, section 27 (1) (b) of the Constitution says: “Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water…” and Section 28 (1) (c) gives an unqualified right to food for children when it notes: “Every child has the right to basic nutrition…” South Africa is also a signatory to regional and global human rights agreements guaranteeing the right to food. Litigation against the state to realise this right, specifically for children, was successfully engaged in by civil society organisations Equal Education and SECTION27 regarding the continuation of the much-needed National School Nutrition Programme. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Court orders Basic Education Department to ensure millions of hungry pupils are fed, giving them 30 days to get it done

In 2021, Unicef published a disturbing article, The slow violence of malnutrition in South Africa, which pointed out that despite South Africa being considered to be an upper-middle-class country, the stunting rate, a result of malnutrition, among children was 27%, which is double the global rate. Now, it cannot be said enough that the effects of stunting can be rather dire as they impede both physical and cognitive development which limit a child’s future as a fully functional and productive member of society. Since this mostly occurs in poor communities it often has the direct effect of trapping these children in a generational cycle of poverty

hunger

Hunger is linked to many societal challenges, chief among them poverty and unemployment. With South Africa’s unemployment at 32.9% and 55% of the population living in poverty, it is unsurprising that so many people go to bed hungry. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Living in such desperate conditions has also, unsurprisingly, been found to have enduring mental health impacts on people. In a Daily Maverick article, Dr Luke Metelerkamp from ICLEI Africa explains that “a growing number of community activists are trying to raise the alarm about the links between chronic hunger and the mental health crisis in South Africa. This includes depression, suicide and gender-based violence.” Showing the multilayered impact that going without food has on people, making them physically and mentally unhealthy.

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s triple burden of disease — hunger and its hidden links to our mental health crisis

While the well-being of all who live in South Africa is mandated to the South African government, the inaccessibility of food to so many people has almost been normalised. In the acceptance that it is the fate of millions to go hungry, lies a loss of humanity and compassion. This issue is not new yet it stubbornly clings to our country’s agenda. 

So what is the answer? 

Activists have devised many proposals and plans to curb this issue, but is anybody listening? Among them is the DG Murray Trust which in June this year unveiled a proposal and campaign to “close the food gap” by calling on retailers, the government and manufacturers to lower the prices of 10 essential nutritional food items so that low- to no-income households can afford them. The items are eggs, dried beans and lentils, tinned fish, fortified maize meal, peanut butter, rice, amasi, soya mince, 4-in-1 soup mix and powdered full-cream milk. If the proposal is accepted and implemented it will make these items 30% cheaper, a significant reduction and an inroad towards curbing hunger.

hunger

Hunger is an insidious psychological, emotional and physical pain. (Photo: weforum.org / Wikipedia)

If we are to forge a healthy and well-adjusted society we cannot afford to lose more time and, most importantly, people to the avoidable issue of hunger in the country. The data is there, the case for the alleviation of hunger has been made, the proposals from activists and civil society are there. All that remains is for those who preside over the levers of power to stop turning a blind eye and act within the best interests of the country. Hopefully then, in the near future World Food Day will be commemorated as a triumphant marker over the scourge of hunger. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    While no one likes to talk about it, is it really morally acceptable to have more children if you cannot feed the ones you already have? Politically correct or not, this has to be part of the conversation.

  • Pierre Cornelissen says:

    It is really a sad moment to read this article. This one sentence “impede both physical and cognitive development which limit a child’s future as a fully functional and productive member of society” is so true, I see it every day. But I also see that young kids are forced to make more kid for a greater grant, and that the money is used for drugs and drinks. My solution would have been, a child grant for only two kids, and limit the childbirth rate for a period, like China did, one per family. I speak ungodly, but allow forced abortions if need be. Our population growing at an astronomical rate – where will it end, like Somalia, Venezuela, or Zimbabwe. Just my 2c. Another solution that may work is an “Adopt a family” campaign, at least then I know where my tax money has gone, for the correct reason.

  • Christopher John Wiseman says:

    Whilst I am of the opinion that the world, including South African, population is out of control, the children already born have to be cared for and the D G Murray trust proposal makes absolute sense to me. Increase the price of a large number of upper end foodstuffs by a few cents and offset this with much lower prices on the basics that poor people can adequately get by on. At the same time tackle the thorny issue of population control.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    So, the solution to our hunger problem is to demand that “… retailers, the government and manufacturers … lower the prices of 10 essential nutritional food items …”? And in that, what role will the government play? Absolutely none other than to introduce regulations/laws to cover their backsides. So who will bear the cost of this? I can tell you now what will happen – the cost of this will eventually fall at the door of the farmers who farm eggs, beans and lentils, maize, peanuts, rice and milk, as well as fishermen. And when it becomes sub-economic for them to produce these foods, they will simply switch to something else.

    This proposal is about as dumb as anything put forward by idiot socialists that I’ve ever seen because it is focussed on relief that has no sunset clause, with really dire long-term consequences. Poverty and consequent hunger is not solved by these ridiculous and calamitous proposals – it requires a dedicated and concerted strategy by society to solve it.

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