Tamara Mlumbi’s four-roomed shack, which she shares with eight family members, has become a place of solace and sustenance for hundreds in her community.
Many families living in and around the Lwazi Park informal settlement in Gugulethu in Cape Town have been hard hit by job losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And Mlumbi, affectionately known as Nicky in her community, is stepping up to help out.
One bucket at a time
Through Nicky’s Soup Kitchen, the 43-year-old says she fed 394 community members on Monday alone.
“On some days we feed more than 650 people on each of the three days the soup kitchen is operating,” she says.
The kitchen is open “without fail” from 5pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It currently feeds people from Kanana, Barcelona and Gugulethu informal settlements.
After losing her job as a cleaner in Johannesburg due to Covid-19 last year, Mlumbi returned home to Gugulethu.
The mother of three explains that her desire to help arose from her lived experience “because I know what that feels like”.
“I lost my job during the first lockdown and a few months after I had returned home – in October last year – I began helping my cousin with her soup kitchen in Nyanga,” she recalls.
Mlumbi says a number of community members pleaded with her to bring them more food as they battled hunger. That’s when she decided to start cooking in her small kitchen.
Serving a community
“People are suffering out there. People are hungry, and I knew this. But never had I imagined that in a single day I would be able to feed more than 600 people.
“The house gets so full. Even if it is raining, we will have hundreds of hungry people lining up for that plate of food because of the difficult situations they find themselves in.”
In addition to her 70-year-old mother and sister who help her with the cooking, Mlumbi also works with young boys in her community who help deliver food to the elderly. While she wants to grow and help more people “by doing this more than three times a week and possibly twice a day”, Mlumbi has challenged government to come to the party.
“Financially, we are struggling as a household. We survive through the grants we receive for my brother, one child and my mother, which we use for rent, school fees and other bills.
“It’s time for government to be proactive and assist its citizens instead of just making empty promises. Many people have lost their jobs. People are struggling – everyone, both young and old,” says Mlumbi.
Millions of South Africans still going hungry
The pandemic has exacerbated South Africa’s food insecurity levels. According to Stats SA, 11% of the population (6.5 million people) suffered from hunger in 2019. She says some of those who come to her soup kitchen have “fought over food”.
“People start to queue from 3pm, two hours before we start serving food because they fear they might not get any food if they are not first in line.”
In April last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that government had “decided on a temporary six-month coronavirus grant”, to be paid to unemployed individuals who were not receiving any other form of social grants or unemployment insurance fund payments.
Last month, Ramaphosa reinstated the grant until March next year.
Mlumbi says that while “things are financially difficult at home”, she has found her passion in giving back to her community.
Although she relies on food donations from her neighbours and the charity organisation Ladles of Love, Mlumbi admits a lot more needs to be done to ensure that enough food reaches those in need.
“The fact that I can make a difference in people’s lives by giving them at least one good cooked meal a day, and that my community really appreciates me, keeps me motivated.”