In response to the COVID 19 lockdown the Western Cape Government has established a humanitarian relief work stream in order to co-ordinate humanitarian relief efforts in the province. This work stream, led by Provincial Minister of Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, comprises representatives from various provincial departments, municipalities, SASSA, and the Solidarity Fund, and reports into a provincial council established as per the COGTA Disaster Management regulations. Thus far the workstream can report that 134 515 food parcels and nearly 200 000 daily cooked meals have been provided to beneficiaries in the province by a combination of civil society organisations, faith based organisations, private donors, SASSA, the Solidarity Fund, the Provincial and National Departments of Social Development, the Western Cape Education Department, municipalities and businesses. We know that these figures are much higher in reality, since there are thousands of individuals who are providing food in communities to vulnerable neighbours and family members. In total, the Provincial Government has allocated over R70m to food relief during this period, while municipalities have jointly contributed R18.7m.
Under this work stream the Provincial Department of Social Development (DSD) announced a once-off distribution of 50 000 food parcels to the most vulnerable families in the province, funded by R20m in re-prioritised funds within its budget. To date, DSD has received over 80 000 requests for food parcels, which our social workers are rapidly assessing. Thus far the Department has approved nearly 50 000 applications and the remaining food parcels are being distributed accordingly. As a result, once all food parcels are committed, further applicants for food parcel relief are being guided to apply for SASSA’s newly activated COVID 19 grants, or alternatively to available municipal or NGO food relief options operating in the applicant’s area of residence. It is in this regard that we will become more reliant on the cooked meals being provided by our department , local municipalities, NGOs and civil society at large.
Minister Fernandez said: “While we wait to hear from the National Department of Social Development on the proposed draft directions regulating food relief, I welcome Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu’s announcement that she will not ban cooked food provision by NGOs. In the interim, I urge that the distribution of cooked food and other forms of food relief be continued by NPO's, ECD's, school feeding programs, and citizens who have stepped up to feed the vulnerable and hungry, bearing in mind that all Covid19 health and social distancing protocols will and must be adhered to. Hot foods like porridge and soup are often the only meal many rely on.”
We do remain concerned about some of the other requirements highlighted in the proposed draft directions besides the ban on cooked food. These other concerns include amongst others:
- The requirement that provincial departments of Social Development give permits to all NGOs that wish to provide food aid would be virtually impossible to implement, since there are tens of thousands of organisations and private individuals in neighbourhoods in every province of this country, and provincial departments do not have the capacity to issue permits to every one of these organisations and individuals, or to co-ordinate them as contemplated in the draft directives. This is likely to lead to delays in food distribution.
- The police are likely to take a hard line against individuals without permits, as they have done so thus far with people perceived to be in violation of exercising regulations, cigarette bans, and curfews. This will further displace policing capacity into an area which will not significantly assist with the reduction of COVID transmission, while queue management at shops, SASSA, Public Transport Interchanges and Labour Offices are a far higher risk and priority.
- The requirement that all food be delivered door-to-door for beneficiaries, which is outside of the logistical capability of many smaller NGOs and neighbourhood feeding schemes.
Only a whole of society approach, through the efforts of all spheres of society, can help curb the pressure we experience on our available services. We need communities and civil society organizations to work with government to help us in our fight to stop the spread and prevent us from having to return to a hard-lockdown by following the rules and regulations.