'food for votes'

Zinhle Mapumulo

Zinhle Mapumulo

It's called the social relief of distress grant, a once-off food voucher worth R960.

By the time all 600000 people earmarked for this poverty relief programme are served, the government will have spent R500million.

Those in financial distress - the poorest of the poor - have hailed the government's move as the best thing that has happened in their lives in a long time.

But Cope and the DA smell a rat, especially since the grants are being dispersed so close to the elections.

Both have even accused the ANC of bribing people with the grants for votes, but the ruling party has denied this.

The Department of Social Development has denied that it is using the grants to solicit votes for the ANC. "The allegations are incorrect," said the department's spokesperson Zanele Mngadi.

"The fact that we are approaching the elections does not mean that we must stop service delivery. The distress grants have been in existence for a long time. We are not going to discontinue them because we fear being accused of bribery," she said.

"Minister Zola Skweyiya has always said that it is an insult to assume that South Africans can be bought to vote for any party."

Last October, the government allocated an additional R500million on top of the R106million that was budgeted to help out those struggling to make ends meet.

The R606million is expected to be used by the end of March.

More than R600million has been budgeted for the same grant next year.

The recipients are more than grateful for the vouchers, despite the fact that it is a once-off. Zodwa Cele, of Orlando East in Soweto, is one of them.

She could not contain her excitement when Sowetan met her outside Bambanani general dealer in Diepkloof - one of the shops nominated to redeem the food vouchers. The 57-year-old was loading groceries onto a van she had hired.

"The groceries I made today will make a big difference to me and my family.

"For once I will not think about what my children are going to eat and where I am going to get the money to buy that food.

"I used my voucher wisely by buying basic foods such as rice, sugar, cooking oil, samp, beans, soap and chicken pieces.

"I know that it will last me for more than a month and until then I can relax and cook for my children with a happy heart," said Cele.

Cele, who is unemployed, is one of hundreds of thousands of people who have benefited from social relief of distress grants.

The grant is given in the form of a food voucher worth R960. People living in dire poverty, those who are unemployed or those waiting for approval of any government social grant, are eligible.