Fight to eat: ‘Chicken meat is just a pipe dream’

2014-10-19 15:00

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One out of four South Africans goes to bed every night without having eaten, a report released this week by international aid agency Oxfam has revealed. City Press spent some time in South ­Africans’ kitchens to try to go beyond the numbers and give a face to the struggle for food.

Elize and Brighter Mphahlele are cleaning chicken heads and feet in a bucket on their stoep.

It’s their last packet, taken from the fridge inside their Tooseng village home, about 70km from Polokwane.

All that’s left in the fridge inside their three-room RDP home is half a head of lettuce. There’s a bottle of water in the freezer compartment.

Elize (60) takes a break from scrubbing to say: “This is a decent meal for my family. We can’t afford any red meat and the actual chicken meat is just a pipe dream for us.”

The family – Elize shares her home with three grandchildren below the age of seven, and five children – survives on R930 a month, thanks to child support grants.

Three of the children are still at school. The other two have matriculated, but they can’t find work.

“We eat chicken heads, feet or tiny intestines on a normal day. On a bad day, we have cabbage. And on a really bad day, when we don’t even have mealiemeal, I encourage my children to drink water and go to sleep without a meal. I tell them I have never seen the grave of someone who has died of hunger, and that they will wake up strong the following day.”

Once the feet and heads are clean, 18-year-old daughter Brighter empties them into a pot of water that’s been boiled on a fire in one of the family’s tiny outside rooms.

“You’d think they’re just chicken heads and feet so they’d be ready in no time. But they take a while to soften. We only start cooking pap when they’re nearly ready,” Brighter says.

She throws in a little salt, then adds potatoes and tomatoes to the pot.

When the meal’s cooked, Brighter calls the family into the second, cleaner outside room and dishes up. Each person gets a foot or a head and a portion of pap. What remains is left in the pot for supper.

Elize and her three grandchildren take their plates to shady spots outside the house. Her children head back indoors to the TV.

“We only cook once a day for lunch and supper. The children normally eat the burnt bottom crust of pap in the morning,” Elize says.

“I would love to plant spinach, which is easy to look after, but then the village can go for days without water and nothing will survive in our garden.”

Lunch is over. Supper looms. Mphahlele has no idea what they’ll eat tomorrow. She’ll probably take a walk around the village looking for donations.

“My neighbours know by now that when I knock at their doors, I am there to ask for mealiemeal or something else to eat.”

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