Covid-19: Soup kitchens can't be policed or controlled, court says

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The government cannot prevent the distribution of food during the Covid-19 national lockdown after the high court ruled in favour of the right to freely assist the hungry, at least for a few more weeks pending another court date.

The court application was brought by the Democratic Alliance, and non-profit organisation the 1 000 Women Trust.

The court made the ruling on Friday, which prevents soup kitchens and NGOs from being shut down for now, until the matter is heard in full in mid-June.

"This means that for the next four weeks food distribution by NGOs can continue as normal before the matter finally comes to court," said DA MP James Lorimer on Friday.

"The DA brought the case after draft regulations started being enforced 3 weeks ago. These regulations shut down soup kitchens and placed stiff regulations on the distribution of food parcels. This stopped food reaching thousands of hungry people as food relief NGOs were threatened with arrest if they did not stop."

In a statement released on Sunday, 1 000 Women Trust said the Department of Social Development "proposed to control, manage and determine who can run a soup kitchen".

"It wants to centralise donations. The 1 000 Women Trust says no. Keep your hands off the soup kitchens. The communities and non-profit organisations (NPOs) will decide how and when to provide food," the statement said.

A founding member of 1 000 Women Trust, Tina Thiart, said they were happy to work with the government, but they would not be dictated to.

"We are working with the [Department of Social Development] in our province, and, where possible, we want NPOs to collaborate with the government, but we will not be told what to do. We know the communities we operate in," she said.

Thiart asked the general public to keep on supporting NPOs and soup kitchens.

"Give your time, money and goods in kind. All people have the right to food and the right to share their resources," she said.

The 1 000 Women Trust, a well-known South African NPO, joined the Cape Town High Court case along with the DA against Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu and Police Minister Bheki Cele.

The case appeared before Judge Robert Henney on Friday.

The application came after after Zulu's department announced a proposed ban on soup kitchens and circulated draft directives that prevented the distribution of food by NGOs.

Thiart said the draft directives were issued two weeks ago and "have been applied, even though they have not been legally processed".

"A large number of food relief organisations were told by the police or by officials of the [department] to stop distributing food."

She said Judge Henney's order now effectively "halted the process by which the Department of Social Development can prevent the distribution of food by NGOs".

Thiart said the court instructed the social development minister to bring the order of the high court to the attention of all officials in her department as well as the MECs responsible for social development in every province.

"The matter has been postponed for a further hearing in the Cape Town High Court on 19 June, 2020."

We will never stop anyone, but our people must have dignity

Speaking to News24 on Sunday evening, the minister said the social development department had repeatedly said it never wanted to stop organisations from helping South Africans.

"I want to make it clear that there is no way in hell that I can be standing in front of people who want to distribute food. We are understanding the plight of people at this point in time - the last thing one can do is stop people from distributing food to the hungry," said Zulu.

She said there were, however, protocols that had to be followed.

"There is social distancing and wearing of masks. There is a virus that is transmitted from one person to the next. All we are asking for from people is to please adhere to those protocols - please make sure you don't get a lot of people coming out and standing in long queues without proper monitoring and people assisting them, so they don't infect each other."

She also called for dignity for South Africans.

"If we are doing these things, we ought to do it with dignity. Let me tell you, as a person who struggled to get SA to where it is today, nothing pains me more than seeing people pushing and jostling for food. It is a very painful picture to see."

She added: "We are just having conversations about how we can best protect our people."

*Correction: This story was corrected to reflect that the court case was brought by both the Democratic Alliance and the 1000 Women Trust. The DA were the first respondents in the case.

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