Dr Dennis George is the executive chairperson of African Quartz. The views expressed here are his own. Photo: Aly Song/Reuters
Dr Dennis George is the executive chairperson of African Quartz. The views expressed here are his own. Photo: Aly Song/Reuters

How can the Social and Ethics Committee support: Hunger has no religion?

By Dennis George Time of article published Jul 16, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – Daily, about 1000 starving people from poverty-stricken areas such as Joe Slovo Park, Westbury, Newclare, and Claremont in Johannesburg queue at the house of Nuraan Esack Gain in Coronationville to receive a warm meal while and on weekends this amount increases to about 1500.

During the Lockdown, Nuraan, a Muslim mother of six children and proudly supported by her husband Shahiem decided to use their humble rented home adjacent to the Madrassa as a feeding centre.

“The starving poor needs support and daily sustenance, especially young children, domestic workers, gardeners, elderly folks, mothers with babies, and even workers who lost their jobs as a result of the economic meltdown and Covid-19”, said Nuraan.

The queue of poor people grew longer as the word of mouth spread that Nuraan and the team of volunteers are providing warm meals during the chilly Johannesburg winter days. I wondered how Nuraan and the team of volunteers manage to feed all the vulnerable poor people every day.

Nuraan explained that it started on a very small scale, seven years ago with one pot of food, however during the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic meltdown, the numbers of hungry people just increased daily.

The team of volunteers and Nuraan clarified that basically, they practice their religion through the inspiration of the narratives of the “five loaves and the two fish” and that “the righteous are those - who feed the poor, the orphan” which is the principle of the project Hunger has no Religion.

They further elaborated that the South African Constitution gives them the right to practice their faith and the belief it is their responsibility to care for the poor in their community. This prompted me to ask the question how do you manage the economy of social care operationally daily, as define in terms of the National Development Plan?

Nuraan suggested that I view their documentary on YouTube that was produced by Debbie Cockrell of the Slovo Centre of Excellence and Toy Library, one of the team of volunteers that was produced with her mobile phone. It became apparent that a few local NGOs, community businesses were collaborating as a team.

This well-coordinated team without any support from the government, are indeed performing miracles every day with very little financial resources to feed hungry people. Nuraan said they fight against grinding poverty daily, while securing financial and food donations to feed all the hungry people in the community.

International television broadcasters like BBC and Al Jazeera heard about the phenomenon of the feeding scheme and the locally made documentary, was shown for the world to the community caring project of Nuraan and the team of volunteers.

This prompted small donations from international donors flowing to support the feeding scheme. This was when the servant leadership of Nuraan and the team of volunteers were demonstrated to make the feeding scheme sustainable, while good governance and accountability were introduced according to the documentary.

Meanwhile, Nuraan and the team of volunteers are deeply committed, and work started before sunrise to prepare wood fires and food to be ready at 13h00. The documentary illustrated how the food was prepared mindfully with love, with humility, and bringing dignity and compassion to others in the community.

Notwithstanding the participation of this Muslim family in the fasting of the holy period of Ramadan that started on 24 April 2020 and continued for 30 days until Saturday, 23 May 2020 stopped the team to work hard to feed the poor during Lockdown Level 5.

Imagine, Nuraan and her family had to raise before sunrise to pray and eat, and then proceed to feed the hundreds of poor people, while they are busy fasting. In the background of the documentary, it is evident how a delivery vehicle stops at their home delivering fresh vegetables, fruit, bread, and groceries for the food to be served the next day.

When asked about all these operations, Nuraan says with tears in her eyes, “the just shall live by faith”. The deliveries are all kinds of donations by local community businesses.

Further research into the feeding project, reveals that Nuraan and her team are dependent on her eldest son, Sufyaan for the Wi-Fi that he pays from his small salary for his siblings to be able to do school work on the internet and playing games in the house for the rest of his siblings, while their mother and the team feed the poor just outside.

The team also had to ensure strict compliance with Lockdown Regulations to address, prevent and combat the spread of Coronavirus Covid-19. On the fence of their house, red posters are clearly visible to observe social distancing and wear face musks, while young and old collect the warm food during the cold Johannesburg winter.

Daily, the police and South African Defence Force would come around to ensure Lockdown Regulations are adhered to during the feeding, the queues are maintained through social distancing and the food operations are conducted hygienically. The documentary provides further evidence that rubber gloves are used during the preparation and servicing of the food and handing out fruit.

This is where, the Social and Ethics Committees in terms of Section 72 of Company Act, read with Companies Regulation 43 could accomplish their responsibilities to provide sponsorship, donations and charitable giving to the Hunger Has No Religion of Nuraan and others in our poor communities. It is her desire to expand on the project to support other similar projects who are also struggling to get support.

Astonishingly, to observe was the fact that in the beginning the food was cooked with burning wood, it took long hours to prepare when a sponsor stepped in to provide the much-needed innovation to cook with gas which is more efficient and effective. Lessons to be learned includes implementing the Constitutional and NDP principles enshrining providing basic nutrition, social solidarity, and community care, as well as the practicality of social justice and human care.

Nuraan and the team are already planning to celebrate Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July to give food parcels and feed 2000 people. Collaboration and teamwork sustained the feeding scheme, while they practice Hunger Has No Religion, as these women leaders’ campaign against poverty.

Dr Dennis George is the executive chairperson of African Quartz. The views expressed here are his own.

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