Unemployed Western Cape residents will soon be working for their food instead of getting it on the proverbial plate, MEC Albert Fritz said on Friday.
"It's in its conceptual stages, but we want the able-bodied and unemployed to work in their communities and get food vouchers and a small cash stipend in return for this," the social development MEC told Sapa.
"We want to stop the concept of a handout and allow them to live in dignity and not in squalor. We have the ability to clean our own areas."
The programme would task unemployed people between the ages of about 17 and 45 with clearing alien vegetation.
The province was looking at other meaningful ways they could better their communities, such as growing vegetable gardens and helping in soup kitchens. A pilot programme would be rolled out in Atlantis and Nyanga, both very poor areas.
Fritz said his vision was to have a central nutrition centre for each community, combining social programmes for the elderly, disabled, school pupils, and the unemployed.
The system is based on a similar concept in Brazil, which feeds its poor through a so-called People's Restaurant.
Fritz said the province would not officially employ people, but could give them a reference letter for future employers. They would also get skills training.
The Centre for Social Development in Africa, located in the University of Johannesburg's social work department, said attaching conditions to social benefits created an interesting debate.
Director Leila Patel said this system had been used for many years in different countries.
"There is nothing wrong, per se, with attaching conditions to accessing benefits, but it is really about why the department is doing it and how they understand unemployment [that counts]," Patel said.
"The notion that people are going to become dependent on government can detract from people's rights to certain benefits and services."
She said departments had to be very careful in making sure the poor and unemployed were not stigmatised by assuming they did not want to work.
Many could not get jobs because of the economy's inability to create them, and the effects of the global recession.
Employing people, especially women, presented other complex issues such as who would care for their children, she said.
The pilot was expected to be rolled out by July.