Fight to eat: ‘We are happy to have something to eat’

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.

It’s 8pm and the Solontsi family misses Generations.

Usually they sit down to eat in front of the TV to catch their favourite soapie. Now that Generations is off air until December, they ignore the old Panasonic TV and use the evening meal as a time to catch up.

Tonight we’re eating mutton bones with gravy and brown bread, shared between the eight members of the Solontsi family and myself.

It’s not much but, according to matriarch Nokude (64), they “are happy to have something to eat”.

She, her son Linda, daughter Thelma, niece Asanda and four grandchildren share a three-roomed shack in Orange Grove, East London.

For lunch, the family has bread and sugar water.

Linda (35) packs gas cylinders for a living, which supplements the family’s old age grant and four child support grants. They say their faith – they are members of the Zion Christian Church – keeps them going.

“We believe that the man upstairs will always provide for us. We are not worried and don’t even think about going to bed hungry,” says Nokude, accepting a plate of food from Thelma.

The church’s Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane gazes down from pictures on the walls.

“I like the mutton bones because they are cheap and have bits of meat in them so we can enjoy them with some gravy. It’s not about eating what you want when you want to; it’s about eating to survive,” says Thelma while she dishes up.

Supper was cooked on an old two-plate stove, the children munching apples as they watched the meal come together.

There is no dining room or table, so the family sits on old brown sofas in the room that doubles up as a kitchen, dining room and lounge. The children sit on the floor.

The mutton bones are tasty, if a little salty.

“We eat these mutton bones a lot, [often] two days a week for supper. Sometimes we have them with pap and vegetables – with just R10 you get a lot of these bones at the butchery.

“We would love to buy the actual meat if we could afford it,” says Thelma.

While we’re sucking all the tasty gravy from the bones, Nokude talks about her vegetable garden. She grows spinach, carrots and potatoes. In winter, there’s also cabbage.

“We don’t buy any vegetables at all, because we grow veggies in the back yard.

“That means at least we are only concerned about things such as meat, cereal for children before they go to school, and such things.”

The family buys in bulk: three 12.5kg mielie meal bags, two 10kg bags of rice, 12.5kg of baking flour and, if they can afford it, 5kg of chicken. The latter doesn’t last for a month.

When dinner’s finished, the adults drink tea and the children are packed off to bed.

On a typical day in their three-roomed home, the Solontsis eat porridge made with mielie meal for breakfast, a lunch of bread or sour milk with pap and a dinner like the one we’ve just enjoyed.

“We are struggling but we manage. At least us as adults, we can go to bed hungry – as long as the children have something to eat, it’s better. Things like KFC and Nando’s are luxuries we can’t afford,” says Nokude.

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