Sandisiwe Mbhele
Lifestyle Journalist
3 minute read
24 Mar 2021
2:57 pm

‘Hunger among university students quite significant’

Sandisiwe Mbhele

Food manufacturer takes the lead in helping hungry students with food hampers.

Students at last year’s relaunch event at University of Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied

The conversation of exclusion from higher learning is much broader than the Fees Must Fall movement as students are not only left out of the system financially but there is an exclusion in purchasing books, accommodation and even the food students need to live on.

Hunger in South Africa is still an issue among lower to middle-income families and food insecurity remains a persistent problem from basic education to higher education. The topic doesn’t automatically disappear once a student gets into tertiary institutions, even with a bursary.

As the government struggles to fund many entities and institutions that need assistance, when do private and public stakeholders come to play?

Tiger Brands has found it’s time to step in.  Mary Jane Morifi, chief of corporate affairs, said the Tiger Brands foundation had been providing meals to non-fee paying schools for years in partnership with the Basic Education Department.

“An extension of that, we kind of felt that while we provide nutrition to schools, what happens when they get to university? We were finding that the level of hunger among university students was quite significant. How could we expect young people to concentrate and succeed if they are worried about where their next meal is going to come from?”

So the foundation set up a partnership with various universities and created a nutrition programme, called Plates4Days and named by the students.

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The programme operates at six universities on nine campuses, including the University of North West, University of Western Cape, University of Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela University and the University of the Free State. About 4,500 are receiving meals.

“What we have found is that students who get food hampers would share that food with friends who are also experiencing difficulties.”

Morifi says that even with bursaries the money doesn’t necessarily help them with food, as much of it goes to fees, books and accommodation.

What was disturbing is the foundation found that female students would resort to unsafe and desperate measures to get food.

“The concept of ‘blessers’ as a food manufacturing company, we didn’t want to have students to worry about where their food comes from. If we could take that worry away from them, to concentrate on what they went to university for, enabling them to get jobs that would help them get out the cycle of poverty.”

The food packages include mielie meal, samp, rice, pasta and tinned foods.  Not just giving meals, university gardens have also been set up to help with food security where students are able to grow fresh vegetables.

ALSO READ: TUT students complain about hunger and lack of accommodation

“Nutrition isn’t about a full stomach it is about the nutrients you put into your body and careful selection of food products,” she says.

She adds it is an “obligation” for the private sector – particularly food manufacturers – civil society and the public to help as much as they can. Food waste exacerbates the problem and it is avoidable. Simple tips such as not throwing away certain foods because it has reached its expiry date, it doesn’t mean the food is not edible.

Morifi further says people shouldn’t dish up too much on their plates and minimise the bulk buying of fruits and certain vegetables as they can quickly expire.

“For those who say its the government’s problem I would add it’s all our problem, us as citizens, us as consumers…for as long as people are still hungry we have no business wasting food as much as we do.”

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