Maverick Citizen

HUNGER CRISIS

Treasury lacks the money to address malnutrition in Eastern Cape

Treasury lacks the money to address malnutrition in Eastern Cape
A woman prepares lunch for Tyelinzima Senior Secondary school learners in Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape on 18 January 2024. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

To address child hunger and malnutrition in the Eastern Cape, the South African Human Rights Commission said the Child Support Grant should be raised above the food poverty line. However, the National Treasury says it doesn’t have the money.

The National Department of Social Development has not yet responded to a South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report into child hunger and malnutrition in the Eastern Cape, while the National Treasury said it didn’t have the funds to increase the Child Support Grant, one of the SAHRC’s key recommendations.

Several government institutions have responded to the report, and Dr Eileen Carter from the SAHRC’s Eastern Cape office said she was pleased that the provincial government had responded with a plan to address malnutrition. 

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Tyelinzima Senior Secondary school learners queue for food in Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape on 18 January 2024. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

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A learner eats lunch at school in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

“I think it would be fair to acknowledge that where other provinces (30 years ago) started at zero, the Eastern Cape started at a minus. We need to contextualise why we are struggling in this province,” she said.

“But the provincial government was only one of 15 respondents to our report.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Finally a small food victory! A systemic response to Eastern Cape’s swollen hunger crisis

Carter said the Provincial Treasury had welcomed the hunger report.

Throughout his tenure, Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane and the Provincial Treasury have voiced concerns about how the equitable share for the Eastern Cape is calculated by the national government. The equitable share determines how the national government distributes funds to the nine provinces.

The Provincial Treasury told the SAHRC that no conditional grants for hunger relief had been provided.

In its response to the SAHRC’s report, the National Treasury “basically told us that there is no money [to increase the Child Support Grant],” Carter said.

The National Treasury said it was undeniable that the value of the Child Support Grant was low, but an increase even to the food poverty line would cost SA R24-billion. The Child Support Grant is R520 per month while the food poverty line is R760.

Read more in Daily Maverick: MEC reveals Eastern Cape’s dire food insecurity statistics

The National Treasury added that further work was needed to motivate investment in a more extended social relief programme.  

No response

In its report, the SAHRC made specific, targeted recommendations for various departments, organisations and government bodies to address the malnutrition crisis comprehensively.

The National Department of Social Development (DSD) was tasked with increasing the Child Support Grant above the food poverty line, prioritising children under schoolgoing age for the grant increase, and partnering with the Department of Home Affairs in a registration campaign targeting unregistered children.

The DSD has not yet responded to the SAHRC’s recommendations. It did not reply to Daily Maverick’s requests for comment.

“Our job is to follow the Constitution,” Carter said. “Constitutional dialogue is a dialogue of accountability. We are still in a dialogue on moving forward.”

She said the report had been tabled in Parliament. 

Carter said if the DSD remained unresponsive, the SAHRC could go to court.

“But I am still hopeful that they want to come to the table,” she said. “I am very positive.”

Mabuyane’s communication staff have not responded to a request for clarity on how R60-million set aside for emergency food relief in the province will be used.

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A Port St. Johns non-government organisation is changing the way hunger is being fought by delivering food parcels on foot, due to the poor roads in the area. (Photo: Supplied)

However, in his response to the debate on his State of the Province Address, he said the government would bolster programmes for the development of food gardens. While not referring specifically to the R60-million he committed to spend on emergency food relief, Mabuyane said funds had been ringfenced for a “quick response” to vulnerable families.

Right to food

Dr Siya Fobosi from the University of Fort Hare said hunger was a huge problem in the province. “This is so especially [for] children,” he said. “Yet the right to food is enshrined in the Constitution, especially in relation to food security. But we are still a long way away.”

Fobosi said the plight of rural communities in the Eastern Cape was largely ignored. Food security for rural residents was also exacerbated by bad roads and a lack of potable water in many areas.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Poverty-stricken Port St Johns gogo dead at 91 after endless wait for housing, service delivery

“The province is mostly rural and rural communities are mostly ignored,” he said, “especially for the provision of water. The roads are not good.

“The water must not only be available, it must also be clean. And [bad] roads are consistently causing a barrier to people’s ability to access food. Even getting to school, where there is a nutrition programme, is made more difficult by bad roads.”

Fobosi said food security had to become a priority for the government. “Just paying grants is not enough. People must also be able to travel to town to buy food.” 

‘Foot soldiers’

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A family with the food parcel delivered to them in Port St. Johns, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

A Port St Johns non-profit organisation, iThemba Kuluntu, is winning the fight against malnutrition by using “foot soldiers” where roads are non-existent or badly maintained.

TJ Hannemann and his crew collectively walk up to 70km a day carrying food parcels to families.

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Volunteers deliver food in villages around Port St Johns, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

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Residents are relieved and happy to receive bulk food deliveries from volunteers on foot. (Photo: Supplied)

“We have established development forums in each village which help us vet these families and make sure that food is distributed in a fair manner,” Hannemann said.

“We found that there was severe favouritism and nepotism in other structures. The traditional soup kitchen model does not work here. You need too many things that are not here. Also, it is difficult for people to get to a soup kitchen.”

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Volunteers have to navigate narrow food paths with food for starving families near Port StJohns, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Guerrilla gardening fills a gap while extreme poverty and hunger stalk SA’s rural areas

He said communities had tried and failed to establish community gardens for a variety of reasons, one being that livestock walked around unrestrained in villages and often destroyed gardens, as did monkeys. 

“It is very expensive to set up fencing. Also, we are right by the sea so everything rusts — you will need galvanised fencing,” Hannemann said.

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A house in a village near Port St. Johns, Eastern Cape, where some recipients live. (Photo: Supplied)

He said the biggest problem was that many villages had no water source other than a river which they shared with animals. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘I have never seen gratitude like this’ — readers’ donations bring cheer to Eastern Cape families

But iThemba Kuluntu’s footwork and generous donations from NGOs, including Gift of the Givers and SA Harvest, have paid off.

On 20 January, officials from the Eastern Cape Department of Health and nurses from the local clinic came to Cwebeni village where Hannemann works.

The Department of Health said 73 children were weighed and only two showed signs of moderate malnutrition. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    Treasury lacks the money to address malnutrition in Eastern Cape, but they do have enough to pay R3.7 billion for politicians (mainly ANC) VIP protection budget. I wonder how far just half of that would go to feed people.

  • Marco King says:

    As hard as it is to hear about this, I cant help but feel that this is another important call to action for South Africans to become more self-reliant. There is an abundance of arable land in the EC. Start growing your own food and rid yourself of your reliance on government handouts… It won’t be easy, nothing worth doing is. But if no one else is feeding you, its time to start feeding yourself. This knowledge is buried deep in the ancestry of this land. Unlock this knowledge and thrive.

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