Soweto residents go hungry: ‘We are living from hand to mouth’

Elderly people from Denver Hostel collect food parcels donated by the Uwais Qarni Islamic Centre. Picture: Tebogo Letsie
Elderly people from Denver Hostel collect food parcels donated by the Uwais Qarni Islamic Centre. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

The multi-tiered web of food distribution channels gives leeway to opportunists looking to  make a quick buck or to fend only for themselves and their network

Some Soweto residents say they have lost hope that they will receive food parcels after being on the social development waiting list for more than a month.

Last week, a fuming SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) member from Tladi in Soweto, who asked not to be identified, alleged that he witnessed a bakkie delivering food parcels to ANC Women’s League and ward committee member Khutso Ramafalo’s home on April 25 and 26.

“What was strange was that the food parcels were dispatched at night, two days in a row. When I confronted her, she told me that the food parcels belonged to the women’s league. I was shocked by her response because groceries belong to disadvantaged homes,” he said.

Ramafalo admitted to City Press that she did receive food parcels, but claimed that she got them from a private donor.

“I did not get them from government, and I did give them to the deserving beneficiaries,” she said.

Even if someone receives food parcels from a private donor, they need to inform social development.
Thabiso Hlongwane, the spokesperson for acting Gauteng Social Development MEC Panyaza Lesufi

Another Sanco member explained that ward 21 of Johannesburg’s Region D was among many other wards in the region that had been waiting for longer that a month for food parcels.

The member said he was living in fear after he wrote down community members’ names and their identity numbers, which he said he submitted to the social development department on their behalf.

He said he thought he was being helpful, but was now being accused of receiving food parcels on behalf of his family and friends.

“All I was trying to do was help the community, but because of the delay, some members suspect that I took all the food parcels for myself. This has put strain on my family and myself,” he said.

Nqaba Makhanya (21), who recently lost his mother, is one of the residents who has been waiting for food parcels.

He shares a four-roomed house with his cousins, and says their situation is dire as none of them is employed.

“Times are really tough. We are living from hand to mouth and some nights we go to bed with empty stomachs,” said an emotional Makhanya.

READ: Hunger stalks villagers as they struggle to survive in face of Covid-19

Another resident blamed ward councillor Mpho Sesedinyane, saying he was “invisible when we need him the most, especially during these trying times”.

“When we elected him four years ago, we put him in power with the trust that he would deliver for the people, but he is an invisible councillor. Last time we had an electricity problem and he was nowhere to be found,” he lamented.

However, Sesedinyane denied this claim, saying councillors were instructed to stay away from food parcels.

What was strange was that the food parcels were dispatched at night, two days in a row. When I confronted her, she told me that the food parcels belonged to the women’s league. I was shocked by her response because groceries belong to disadvantaged homes.
Soweto resident

“We have structures such as ward committee members and leaders on the ground to assist families in need. We have submitted at least 200 names to social development. Some of the beneficiaries were interviewed and they will be receiving their food parcels soon,” he said.

Another frustrated Soweto resident is Boitumelo Koetle (30) from Naledi Extension, who explained that he submitted 400 names from his community to social development a month ago, “but I haven’t received any word from the department”.

“I have tried reaching out to their office multiple times, but I am not getting any assistance. So instead of waiting for government and the councillors to make things happen for us, we have started a community initiative and have approached private donors to assist us in donating groceries to those in need in ward 20,” said Koetle.

“So far, our initiative has donated food parcels to 55 families and we are hoping to reach out to many more.”

Uwais Qarni Islamic Centre
Residents from Soweto were beneficiaries of a food donation drive by the Uwais Qarni Islamic Centre. Photo: Tebogo Letsie

Thabiso Hlongwane, the spokesperson for acting Gauteng Social Development MEC Panyaza Lesufi, admitted that there was a backlog of 30 000 families whose pressing need for food had to be attended to.

“We underestimated the number of requests that would come, however, we [have come up] with a new plan. We are now reaching out to 25 000 families daily in all the regions,” he said, adding that 400 000 people had benefited from the social relief of distress programme since the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown started.

Hlongwane appealed for people to be patient.

“We will be distributing food parcels as per people’s referrals and requests,” he said.

He added that the department was aware of and was investigating the alleged looting of food parcels.

“Even if someone receives food parcels from a private donor, they need to inform social development,” he said.


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