A major women’s organisation has written to the United Nations Women, pleading for it to order the Department of Social Development to stay away from soup kitchens and non-profit organisations (NPOs) in the country.
Founding member of 1000Women1Voice, Tina Thiart, said in a statement that the organisation had written to executive director of the UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, complaining about the department’s proposal to control and accredit soup kitchens.
Thiart claimed that many women’s organisations had already started soup kitchens, mobilised funding, solicited food donations, recruited volunteers and had already served thousands of meals to vulnerable communities.
“The department now proposes to control, manage and determine who can run a soup kitchen. It wants to centralise donations. We say no. Keep your hands off our soup kitchens. We as communities and non-profit organisations will decide how and when we provide food. We demand the department to stop,” Thiart said.
Thiart said NPOs successfully provided food to thousands of people while the department and “corrupt officials” tried to distribute food parcels.
“There is confusion about the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) relief. Now the same department wants to feed the communities. We say to the department – stay away. Do not touch our soup kitchens,” Thiart said.
Thiart pleaded for South Africans to join their protest by signing and sharing the petition to the UN Women. It already had 2,270 signatories by Friday.
“Food security in South Africa has suffered greatly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa. In February 2020, 6,7 million people were unemployed in South Africa. By the expanded definition, more than 10 million people are unemployed.
“In 2017, 6,8 million South Africans experienced hunger meaning that 1,7 million households across the country are affected,” said Thiart.
In a statement on Friday, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu dismissed the allegations that it was prohibiting the distribution of food parcels and cooked food.
Zulu said the Non-profit Organisations Act, of which the department is a custodian, states that the department must ensure access to food security for the poor, especially during this critical time.
“We are grateful to the private sector, aid agencies and civil society organisations for their generous donations of food to those most in need during this difficult time.
“To comply with social distancing guidelines, the department has changed its modus operandi of serving cooked food at community centres to the door-to-door delivery or knock-and-drop system of prepacked food to families.
“However, over the last past [few] weeks, the department has recognised and has been informed of several incidents of long queues and overcrowding at food-parcel distribution areas across the country,” said Zulu.
Zulu added that the current uncoordinated situation of the distribution of food parcels created an environment for the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable communities.
“Protecting our people against the possible infection of this deadly virus is as important as providing food relief. To avoid the recurrence of such incidents and to comply with the lockdown regulations, the department drafted directives on coordination of food donations and other humanitarian relief efforts.
“The rationale for these directives is that humanitarian responses to a crisis of this magnitude often involve large numbers of national and international organisations who work in the same geographical areas,” said Zulu.
“Failure to work together amongst these organisations can lead to gaps in coverage and duplication of humanitarian relief efforts,” Zulu warned. For this reason, the department has drafted directives to ensure the finality of the collaboration and coordination of our relief efforts.
“The objectives of the directives are to ensure that the distribution of food parcels is done in a dignified manner that does not expose them to possible infection.
“It is for this reason that we encourage organisations that are involved in humanitarian assistance to work jointly with the government to ensure that there is a coordinated response and to eliminate opportunities for corruption and manipulation of these efforts,” Zulu said.