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'There’s no food or income’: CT communities facing hunger plea for help

Organisations across Cape Town are working hard delivering food parcels to people struggling to survive during the lockdown but there's only so much they could do.

Clarkes Estate residents in Elsies River, Cape Town receive their meals from community activists on 22 April 2020. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/EWN

CAPE TOWN - As the nation awaits more details on Thursday of how the poor could access emergency funds during the national lockdown, one Elsies River family said that it was delighted at the prospect of getting help.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday announced that government would direct R50 billion towards social grants over the next few months amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

WATCH: What Ramaphosa's stimulus plan will do for you - and for SA

Priscilla Pienaar, who lives in a tiny flat in Clarkes Estate along with her husband, their four children, and one grandchild, said her husband was the sole breadwinner but he was not able to work as a forklift operator during the nationwide lockdown.

“It’s stressful for him because he wants to go and work. His company also says they’re only going to pay his leave and his full salary,” Pienaar said.

The family was worried about how they would put food on the table and welcomed the president’s announcement that grant recipients would get extra funds.

“I was happy to hear the president would give us a little extra,” she said.

The family was also grateful for donations during the lockdown, as they ensured their children had a warm meal daily.

NO SIGN OF RELIEF FROM GOVERNMENT

Meanwhile, one vulnerable community in the Western Cape said they had seen no sign of relief from government.

This as organisations across Cape Town were hard at work cooking and preparing meals, and delivering food parcels, but there was only so much they could do.

Over the past few days, communities looted stores and trucks, some of which were transporting food parcels to vulnerable communities.

In Lavender Hill, organisations such as Philisa Abafazi Bethu were making sure residents didn’t go hungry by distributing food. The non-governmental organisation was cooking for 2,000 people at eight sites in the area.

“It started off with 30 to 40 people but now it seems like we over 500 to 600 people,” said Demi Smet, one of the hundreds of residents who stood in a food queue with children and elderly. “Food seems to dry up and the dishes are becoming smaller and smaller. It used to be buckets full to feed a whole family, but now there is nothing,” she added.

Smet said the need for food was greater than ever during the lockdown period. She said she was grateful for the hot meal, but said government needed to step in urgently.

“Sassa’s [South African Social Security Agency] offices are closed, they are waiting for Sassa’s people to open the offices to issue out parcels. We are now suffering,” she said. “They said the coronavirus lockdown is until the 30th of this month. How many people would have died or would have suffered from hunger? There are no parcels being issued out to anybody.”

A few metres away, mother of four, Karen Jackson, stood in the queue while she cradled her eight-month-old baby.

Jackson said her husband was at home during the lockdown and without the income he gets from casual jobs, she said that her family were relying on the distribution of food by organisations.

“Food is what I have to worry about, who is going to put food on the table for them, so I must go,” she said. “I have a 17-year-old son and he eats a lot. If he sees there is nothing to eat one of these days, he’s going to say, ‘I am going to steal or something for food.’”

Jackson said Ramaphosa’s announcement of a special COVID-19 grant was welcomed news, but she would not be able to relax until the money he promised was in her hands.

QUEUING FOR FOOD

At the same time, state pensioners in May would get a little more than usual.

From the R50 billion boost for grant funding announced by the president on Tuesday, those on disability and old age pension grants would receive an extra R250 per month for the next six months.

In Lavender Hill, many senior citizens were dependent on the kindness of strangers just to get a hot meal.

Angeline Petro stood in the warm autumn sunshine on Wednesday waiting with hundreds of others. Petro lives in the informal settlement just outside the official boundary of Lavender Hill and shares her small dwelling with her daughter and grandchild.

There was no chance for the household to make a daily wage under lockdown and they had no food in the house. Petro walked a half a kilometre to get to the daily food queue run by Philisa Abafazi Bethu.

“It’s very hard for us, there’s no food and no income at my place. So, I only came here for food,” she said. “It's very kind that they donated food for us to eat so that we can live again.”

After Petro is served by volunteers, she holds her plastic container tightly in her hands and makes her way home slowly.

She said she was aware of COVID-19 and knew about the importance of social distancing.

“I stay indoors and look after myself and my grandchild and daughter,” she said.

But it was the most basic of needs that drove her outside and in the absence of any food relief to help sustain her and her family, Petro has no choice but to brave the crowds of people who gather every day for the only meal they would get.

Some individuals were also helping as many citizens are unable to earn a living due to regulations on movement.

Corryn van Wieling carried boxes containing 100 foam buckets of vegetable akhni and loaded it into her car.

“I’ve dished and loaded so now I’m going to drop off at Clarkes Estate,” she said.

Van Wieling regularly cooked meals for the neediest in her community and noticed a rising demand during the lockdown.

She meets up with three other women who live in Clarkes Estate, Elsies River, and they hand over the hot meals to children. But before they could tuck in, the women ensured the children’s hands were sanitised

The wait for the food was longer than the time spent handing it out and those who got a meal showed their gratitude. When the children are done eating, the women encourage them to go home and stay indoors.

For official information about COVID-19 from the Department of Health, please click here.