Cape Town – A collective called the Manenberg Stakeholders are feeding around 3 000 people in their community daily at different locations – with no assistance from the authorities, despite a plea for help.
They are reliant on donations and only have enough food to feed those going hungry during the lockdown until Friday.
While ensuring physical distancing is maintained in the food queues, they are nevertheless putting their lives at risk as requests to their ward councillor and the local government to give them protective gear have been ignored.
Jonathan Jansen, 43, a married father of five and a community developer, told the Cape Times: “We have decided to not give food parcels because if you give food parcels, you can only give to a 100 people and it’s expensive.
“But if you cook a good meal, we are able to feed 3 000 people across the community every day. We felt that would be a much better way to use the resources.
“I don’t think government on a national, provincial and local level has given this enough thought. Lockdown is the right decision, however, in poorer communities where people have now resources lockdown is a nightmare.
“It’s been a struggle as we have not yet received any government support. We have tested the Sassa and all of those helplines and have not yet received a reply. So we are continuing in our way.”
They were feeding 50 to 80 people before the lockdown began and have had to adjust as the need grew in the community.
“We have been working in Manenberg in a collective way. The group is called the Manenberg Stakeholders. It’s a collective of churches, mosques, organisations and community leaders that have been servicing the community in different forms prior to the lockdown.
“That first week wasn’t necessarily a problem because people still had a bit of resources at the end of the month.
“Before lockdown, we were feeding between 50 to 80 people. We used to cook within our capacity but Covid-19 has raised the bar so we have people cooking who have never cooked before.
“It initially started with what is in your cupboard, what can you give. People have been cooking on their stoves, using their own gas and electricity.
“The second Friday of lockdown a metre-long pot of food served almost 400 meals. Then we got in some other resources.
“Some of us had networks outside the community and we’ve had people respond in different ways. So we have been able to secure food up until Friday.
“We are hoping that more food will come through individual donations. Right now we are almost serving 3 000 people a day in different spaces.
“The community is divided into almost nine zones, with people cooking in their own zones.
“It’s always sad when you have to turn people away when there isn’t enough food, but our hope is to never turn anyone away.
“The people we are seeking to feed first are seniors, people on treatment in whatever form, disabled people and children under the age of 14. Those are the most vulnerable people we believe we need to look out first for.
“We have 12 locations where we cook, but only at eight on one day. We are spreading the resources that we have around so that we are able to feed across the community.
“It’s a case of word of mouth, but if you put a pot of food outside in the street, you will get a very long queue. The first week everybody cooked every day but we realised that put a heavy strain on the resources that we had.
"The community is hungry. In the streets we see hungry people, we see kids that have maybe gone to sleep without food. So we are just trying to make sure that we are able to feed people for the remainder of lockdown.
“There are a few other people in the community doing similar things in Manenberg. One of the things we have been trying to do is reach out to other people so that we don’t cross our wires.
Jansen is concerned about the impact the lockdown is having on the community – physically, mentally and financially – where you have 12 people on average living in a dwelling.
“If people in the suburbs are struggling to follow the lockdown, in our communities it’s a totally different thing. In Manenberg, we have about 45% of the people who are informally employed as a char, cleaning houses, gardening, and so on, people who were able to earn every day.
“There is no guarantee that they will be able to ever earn again after this. Those people have no resources.
“I have submitted a proposal to the City and said work through us rather than somewhere else. We have people on the ground who are feeding people every day and if you work with us, we will be able double the amount of people we are feeding every day, rather than having yourself being bombarded with phone calls.
“Giving a food parcel is one thing, the other challenge is where is the electricity money going to come from? People are running out of electricity and there is no way they can pay for it because they can’t go to work. So the problem is becoming bigger and bigger.
“Here the average number of people living in a house is 12 people. So one food parcel will not last for three days and they only give one parcel per household. So what happens after that?”
Jansen is also perplexed by how the lockdown is being policed – or the lack of it – in Manenberg.
“We have law enforcement, the army and police maybe coming through the community in a convoy of 24 cars. Not thinking they can maybe divide themselves into different teams and drive into different areas.
“They come into the community once a week. If you want to enforce lockdown, you are going to need to be present all the time.”
The Manenberg Women's League indicated in a statement yesterday how dire things are in their community, pleading to the government to provide them with food parcels.
They also want all the feeding schemes to work together, but as the Manenberg Stakeholders has shown, the community would be better served if those running feed schemes were provided with the necessary resources and funding to curb a growing humanitarian crisis.
After all, Manenberg is only one suburb in the Cape Metropole where thousands are in desperate need of food every day.
* Donations can be made to the following Manenberg Stakeholders fund to help feed the growing number of residents going hungry.