Parties in court over feeding schemes

If a draft proposal by the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, went ahead, feeding schemes like this one would not have been able to distribute cooked food.

The DA has taken the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, to court to stop her from regulating food aid programmes – including a draft proposal to ban all cooked food donations.

According to Western Cape High Court papers, “the parties will exchange heads of argument on or before Wednesday June 17”, and ordered that no feeding project be barred from handing out cooked food for the next month.

MEC for Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, also approached the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) with her department’s concern.

On Thursday May 21, the SAHRC pronounced that an attempt by government to block food provision for those in need, was a human rights violation.

The national lockdown implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19 resulted in many people being unable to earn an income, and many others losing their jobs.

Food aid programmes in communities across Cape Town have become pivotal, as hundreds of thousands are now forced to rely on them for their daily meals.

Having a ban on the distribution of cooked food would have a devastating effect on those who rely on it, said Caroline Peters, a community activist, who also runs a feeding scheme from her home in Bridgetown, under her organisation, Calla’s Community Projects.

“We welcome the decision of the Human Rights Commission. We have the right to food. It’s also not just about feeding – how will our community fight this virus without nutrition? We have been serving food since 2018, and the need has become especially greater now. This lockdown has left people worse off. I was so overwhelmed and cried when I saw some of my family members and friends in the queue for food. Many tradesmen were also in the queue – it’s no longer just the people considered the poorest of the poor who collect food. For many, the food they get at feeding projects, would be their only meal for the day. There will be a huge gap if cooked food is not allowed,” Ms Peters said.

Her feeding project now operates seven days a week, and feeds up to 600 people a day – not just in Bridgetown, but also Vygieskraal, Silvertown, Parktown and Kewtown.

Ms Peters added that they have strict measures in place when handing out the food, and also use the opportunity to educate the community about the coronavirus. Her organisation has also received a donation of masks for children, which they handed out. They also make sure that the meals they hand out, also comes with fruit, she said.

“Fruit is essential. Our communities cannot afford to buy vitamins, and this is found in fruit.”

She was critical of the national Department of Social Development’s (DSD) suggestion that all food aid must be centralised through that department.

“The DSD could not handle handing out food parcels. There are so still so many people who are waiting for it, and who applied early in the process,” Ms Peters said.

Food aid programmes where people have to come out to collect it, also give women in abusive situations an opportunity to get the help they need, she added.

“Through the feeding scheme, women have access to us and our work against gender-based violence. The food security programmes are more than just feeding people. Today (Friday May 22) we were able to help two women from our area to get into shelters.”

Tina Thiart, the co-founder of 1 000 Women Trust, an organisation which also works in the field of gender-based violence, agreed that food aid programmes give women access to get help. Ms Thiart has started an online campaign called War on Hunger, and the petition reached 10 000 signatures within a week.

“A lot of people don’t have cooking facilities, and many have no money to buy electricity, so it would be very difficult for them to cook, should they receive a food parcel. Also, non-profit organisations (NPOs) don’t have the resources to drive around to deliver food at people’s homes. We are saying to government they must stay away from our kitchens. Having food aid programmes is part of our Ubuntu. This is how South Africans are. It’s amazing to see the people who donate – there are very little donations from companies – most are from ordinary people who share. Why do we need directives for NPOs?” Ms Thiart asked.

Ms Fernandez said the national DSD’s draft regulations in their current form would have devastating consequences for any non-profit or non-government organisation, private donors or civil society organisations wanting to distribute food relief to vulnerable people.

She said her department was also concerned about other requirements highlighted in the proposed draft directions, including provincial departments of Social Development issuing permits to all NPOs who want to provide food aid. This, she said would be “virtually impossible to implement, as there are tens of thousands of organisations and individuals in every province, and this is likely to lead to delays in food distribution”.