Lift the ban on those helping to feed the needy and desperate, urges NGO

Residents of Mooiplaas informal settlement, outside Centurion, gathered to collect food hampers a few weeks ago. An NGO has called on the department of social development to assist private donors in assisting the needy.
Residents of Mooiplaas informal settlement, outside Centurion, gathered to collect food hampers a few weeks ago. An NGO has called on the department of social development to assist private donors in assisting the needy.
Image: Provided

A ban on the operation of soup kitchens during lockdown should be lifted and the onerous requirements that donors need to satisfy before distributing food to the needy should be done away with.

Also, subsistence fishermen should also be allowed to fish in order to provide for their families during this period.

These were some of the suggestions made during a during a webinar hosted by the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign on the worsening food crisis caused by Covid-19 and what can be done to address it.

Dorah Marema, who runs GenderCC Southern Africa - Women for Climate Justice, said the NGOs she works with have been told to apply to the social development department and the police before they can distribute much-needed food to the poor.

"What we have seen is a heavy-handed approach by government," she said.

Marema said NGOs acknowledged there were challenges of flattening the curve of infections, but they believed there were other ways of doing this.

"We reject the approach that the department of social department has taken to centralise the provision of food parcels and to close down food and soup kitchens that had been in existence," she said.

Marema said instead of donors requiring permission to distribute food, the department should provide support to them by making sure there is social distancing in places where food is handed out.

"For me, one of the urgent things [to get food to communities] is for the department to lift the ban on soup kitchens."

She said closure of these kitchens cut the food source for millions.

"We know resources are not enough. Why don't we hold hands? Let us not push department's lists on civil society. Let the department take care of its own lists."

Durban activist Desmond D'Sa said poverty had worsened since lockdown. He said people in the city's hostels - who were casual workers and informal traders - were hardest hit as they did not receive support from the government.

He said there was also no assistance for thousands of subsistence fishermen in the city during the lockdown. He said he had been sent from pillar to post as he tried to plead for assistance for fishermen, both at national and provincial level.

"Subsistence fishermen have been social distancing for many years, yet they are not allowed to fish. But those with boats, who are close together, are allowed to fish," said D'Sa.

Mervyn Abrahams of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Economic Group said there had been a marked increase in the price of food since the lockdown began, with the increase in social assistance just about covering the increase in food prices.

Abrahams, whose organisation publishes a monthly household affordability index, said its food basket with 38 food items (such as rice, maize meal, cooking oil and some meat) had increased by R250, from R3,191 to R3,441.

This matches the increase in the old age grant, which is being boosted by R250 for six months.

"By now, the increase has been taken off the shelf," he said.

Abrahams said the food parcels that are being distributed by the department range in value from R1,200 to R1,700 and are not adequate to last for a whole month. He proposed that they be distributed every two weeks.


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.