Pandemic lockdowns expose CT's worsening food insecurity crisis

A year after South Africa first went into lockdown, some communities in Cape Town are struggling to stave off hunger on a daily basis as the pandemic and a worsening economy make an already tough life harder.

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

CAPE TOWN - Almost a year after South Africa first went into hard lockdown many families are still facing the reality of food insecurity.

As the nation's factories and cities turned to ghost towns, the human cost was felt in the kitchens of the poorest of our citizens.

Hunger and desperation sparked food riots in Cape Town as government and NGOs struggled to keep up with the demand.

In poor and working-class communities, where circumstances were already trying pre-pandemic, the lockdowns wrecked havoc and in some instances, the effects of those lockdowns still are.

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

Patricia Conradie is a single mother who has not earned a salary in a year because of a series of COVID-19-related lockdowns.

"It was very hard. When the lockdown started, my place of work closed and it is very hard because it is still closed."

During the prolonged lockdowns, the only cash that was coming in was social grant money.

"The R500 the government gave as a push up for us who received Sassa grants was really a help. When that stopped, it was back to normal."

A year later, many people were back at work but Conradie was still unemployed as the jewellery factory where she worked for minimum wage had yet to reopen.

"I'm still at home. My son is working two, maybe three days a week. I only got a Sassa grant, so yes it is hard to cope when you don't have."

Conradie sits in the living room of her tiny flat in Clarkes Estate explaining that they had become dependent on food parcels and the soup kitchens in their community.

"It's so appreciated when the school gives the kids some food parcels. And there's a lady, she's also giving food to the kids, so yes we try to cope. It's not easy."

With a vaccine rollout that's yet to hit full swing, the ever-looming threat of another wave of infections and a struggling economy, Conradie and the millions of South Africans like her face an uncertain future.

WATCH: Gangsterism, hunger & COVID-19: Cape Town communities’ triple threat to life


An Elsies River resident said that the COVID-19 pandemic had spurred her on to do more to ensure that those less fortunate also had a warm meal.

The pandemic and the associated lockdowns have exacerbated the country's hunger problem.

The 2020 Child Gauge Report revealed that poverty, unemployment and hunger rose dramatically during lockdown, with a staggering 47% of households running out of money to buy food in May and June last year.

ALSO READ: COVID-19 exacerbated hunger among SA's children in 2020, report finds

Eyewitness News visited the same Elsies River community a year after the country first went into lockdown to speak to residents about whether their circumstances have improved since then.

Valencia Steenkamp (80) lives on the fourth floor of a block of flats in Clarkes Estate.

She stands in front of her gas stove in her dark kitchen preparing chicken curry for her, her daughter and her two grandsons.

Whatever's leftover, will be given to anyone who knocks on the door the next day looking for food.

"They come to me sometimes and ask: 'Mrs Steenkamp, isn't there some food leftovers?' Then I give them."

This did not used to be a regular occurrence but since COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns, Steenkamp was seeing the hardship in her community every week.

"I feel that maybe I must make a big pot of food but my meat is not enough, so what can I do? Sometimes I make mielie meal porridge and I give it to them in the mornings."

Seeing hungry children in her block was particularly heartbreaking for her.

"Sometimes I don't want to eat a potato or a piece of meat, then I just leave it in my plate, put it in a bowl and put it in the fridge. I think then I can put a little rice with. Then I call some of the children and I ask if they want it and I warm it for them."

Everybody in the block knows Steenkamp and the residents agreed that things had got a lot worse for them since COVID-19 emerged and the nation locked down. Some still rely on food donations from NGOs and local soup kitchens and, of course, from the kindness of neighbours like Steenkamp.

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