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CT officials scramble to head off hunger crisis after violence over food parcels

Hunger and desperation have resulted in the looting of a number of shops across Cape Town over the past few weeks.

FILE: People run away as a South African Police Services armoured vehicle (not visible) approaches them during clashes with residents of Tafelsig, an impoverished suburb in Mitchells Plain, near Cape Town, on 14 April 2020, after some people in the community did not receive food parcels which were being handed out as part of the support for this community during the nation wide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - A major hunger crisis looms in poor communities due to the national lockdown.

Many families are relying solely on handouts as their only meal of the day from government, charities or fellow community members rallying to cook pots of soup.

Earlier this week, Mitchells Plain residents took to the streets to protest against what they called an unfair distribution of food parcels in the community.

Chaos also erupted in Alexandra in Gauteng when officers used rubber bullets to disperse a crowd of people queueing for food parcels at a local high school.

Hunger and desperation have resulted in the looting of a number of shops across Cape Town over the past few weeks.

Mitchells Plain residents resorted to burning tyres and blocking AZ Berman Drive, complaining that some neighbourhoods in the area had been provided with food parcels while others received nothing.

Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez said that the mayhem in Mitchells Plain was a result of fake news because communication went out that Sassa would be providing food parcels to residents but this never happened.

Fernandez said that in terms of provincial government's emergency lockdown nutrition programme, her department had made an additional R35 million available for food relief programmes from provincial Treasury allocations.

As part of this, 50,000 food parcels will be provided once-off to support a family of four for one month during the lockdown and is based on set criteria to ensure the limited number of parcels reach the most vulnerable people.

According to the criteria, a household where a member of the family tested positive for COVID-19 and the family doesn't have the means to sustain themselves during the lockdown is eligible.

Meanwhile, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said that he was meeting with city officials on Thursday to try and iron out issues around the distribution of food parcels in communities struggling during the lockdown.

He admitted that food security was currently one of the biggest issues facing authorities.

Winde said that the provincial call centre on Wednesday received 14,500 calls from desperate residents in need of assistance.

"The first thing you ask is: 'Do you receive a social grant in your house? Yes or no?' Then: 'Have you got any other option?' and then so we start to lose the most urgent so that we can then divert within that region be it in the municipality or in the city - the biggest is in the city - and 'how can we get a food parcel to you?'"

Winde said that some families calling for help were in desperate need while others are able to sustain their families.

"At the same time to map it so that we don't have double dipping and that the same time that we getting to the absolute desperate because I personally can't tell you how many calls in the last five days I've taken... some of them you want to break down in tears yourself because you can see the absolute desperation and the other calls when you start delving, 'well actually, you are alright.'"