Maverick Citizen

Food Justice


Desperate Eastern Cape grandmothers walk up to 5km to scrounge for leftover food at traditional ceremonies

Desperate Eastern Cape grandmothers walk up to 5km to scrounge for leftover food at traditional ceremonies

As school feeding schemes in the Eastern Cape shut down for the year – with no real indication of how children will be fed – grandmothers say they will be attending traditional ceremonies in the province’s many villages to see what leftovers they can get for themselves and their grandchildren. With the additional burden on families, disturbing reports were coming in this week of weak and fainting children, and adults who are living on water.

They feel too embarrassed to be identified, but several desperate grandmothers in the Eastern Cape have recounted how they walk for as much as 5 kilometres to find traditional ceremonies where they can scrounge for leftovers.

They agreed that January would be the worst – when these ceremonies were over.

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School feeding schemes stopped providing meals after the last exam was written, leaving children to find food for themselves in December and much of January.

“Children are having a tough time,” said Linda van Oudheusden from the Missionvale Care Centre in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

“See how difficult it is to get them to smile for a picture. Their lives are very difficult.” 

While nobody who comes to the centre is turned away – some walk 20km to get there – the centre itself is struggling with the high cost of food. 

“We used to get bread at a special price of R6.50 – now it is R10. That’s R500,000 more in our annual budget.” 

She said the most vulnerable children in their care had been sent home with food parcels. 

“We are very worried about some of them.”

The Butterworth Hospital has issued an urgent plea for high-energy food supplies to treat both children and adults with acute malnutrition. 

“Butterworth serves a large population where malnutrition is of great concern,” a memo written by the nurses at the hospital reads. 

“A hospital-allocated budget of R30,000 per year [for nutritional supplements used to treat starving people] does not provide [for the number of patients who need it].”

The state facility has welcomed an offer by Gift of the Givers to help with infant formula, enriched maize meal, lactose-free nutritional drinks, ready-to-use therapeutic food and food parcels.

Corene Conradie from Gift of the Givers said they would be running a yearlong programme in Tholeni and Ndabakazi villages in Butterworth. 

Tholeni Village is where Bongeka Buso (38) killed her three children before hanging herself in her rondavel.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Desperate Eastern Cape mom kills starving children and hangs herself

Read more in Daily Maverick: Seven children starve to death, others fight for their lives while malnutrition ravages Eastern Cape

“When we pull up there to distribute food, you can see how weak people are. Many of them faint while standing in line … the elderly, children, young moms. They are so weak. They tell us that they beg until nobody can give anymore, then they try to fill up on water … then they just starve. 

“They share a 2-litre bottle of water for supper at night,” she said. “Many people are HIV positive.

“The elderly ladies in the villages are desperate to do something that can help them look after their children. They come to the soup kitchen to offer their help with anything,” said Conradie. 

“Often they have between six and eight young children at home – the child grant only lasts for two weeks. 

“They tell you they are not embarrassed to say that they are starving. They have had to say it too many times before.

“It breaks your heart because some of them are really old gogos and they come to beg for a job. They say they don’t want to wait for handouts every time.”

Nkosikazi Nosintu Gwebindlala, chairperson of the Eastern Cape Congress of Traditional Leaders, said it was vital to understand how the food crisis in the province was affecting grandmothers.

She emphasised biological parents needed to take responsibility for their children.

In roughly 80% of these cases, she said, children are simply abandoned by their parents. And for the rest, neither the grandparents nor the parents have enough information on how to access food welfare in the province.

“Where are the mothers of these children? Where are the social grants for these children?” Gwebindlala asked.

“We need to address the social welfare justice part, we need to dig deeper into the reasons, which include negligence,” she said. 

She added that they were trying to help consortiums of 10 or more women, with assistance from the Department of Agriculture, to grow their food. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Desperate mom in Nelson Mandela Bay keeps infant alive with cooldrink powder as food crisis hits SA

Julia Mbambo, who runs soup kitchens in Nelson Mandela Bay’s Walmer township, said they were seeing an increase of around 200 people a day. Her budget has taken a knock, especially with having to feed up to 800 children daily.  

Due to escalating food prices, one of the soup kitchens can only open for five days a week. 

“It is the only place where the children can find food,” she said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fuad XXX says:

    Thank you cANCer for this very good story, while your cadres & connected live in absolute obscene luxury.

  • Jeff Robinson says:

    The sad and inescapable truth is that people are willing to bring a child into the world when they know that there is little or no prospect of providing them a chance in life. I would wager that the majority of births are not planned. There are means of satisfying one’s sexual appetite that don’t have this consequence. Everyone knows this and yet ….

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    As horrible as this is, you must call the devil by its name to exorcize it, and that devils name is called ANC. Such articles should make this clear if change is truly wanted.

  • Derek Jones says:

    Half of feeding schemes food budgets should really be spent on educating people to not have more children, otherwise they are fighting a loosing battle. If you think that is a stupid thing to say, this is an observation from the late comedy writer Spike Milligan who was always concerned for the poor.

    • Jeff Robinson says:

      It is certainly not a stupid thing to say. But for some reason, the fact that the poorest demographic is also the most prolific is a no go area. One doesn’t need to go to school to come to the realization that having children comes with costs or to know how pregnancies can be avoided.

  • Philip Armstrong says:

    Call me harsh but this is what the ANC has delivered to its people. Soulless, heartless, tragic. But, sadly, these are the very people the ANC will be hawking for their vote in 2024.

  • Vincent Britz says:

    Well this is not going to end if we as a country don’t stop the corrupt ANC government from staying in power! We need to vote the corrupt ANC government out of power.

    • Leslie Fingleson says:

      And when NHI gets going … more to loot and less for these same people who will still vote blindly for a t-shirt and a small bag of pap.

  • Eus de Clerk says:

    Who once said: “The government you elect is the government you deserve.”
    He knew what he was talking about…

  • Jacci Babich says:

    You really feel for these starving people but you also feel huge anger as the government is silent on the major issue behind it all – Birth Control. Where are the educational programmes- the talk shows, the information at all levels on how not to have babies? We are simply continuing to produce more and more children into an already over populated world. Into a South Africa where there are no jobs, and massive insufficiencies in schooling and education and inefficiency in just about every other sphere. The Gravy Boat is about to sink but the political band plays on.

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