‘Hunger is going to kill us before the virus’: Durban destitutes' desperate plea

By Kailene Pillay and Sakhiseni Nxumalo Time of article published Apr 20, 2020

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Durban - “Hunger is killing my family. I beg outside shops, asking people to buy me bread. I even look for food in the bins, but there is nothing. If this lockdown continues, we are going to die of ­hunger.”

Mayville granny Ntombifuthi Phungula , 78, is the sole breadwinner for her family of four. Before the lockdown, she used to make woollen hats and sold them on the Durban beachfront to eke out a living.

Phungula walked the streets of Durban on Sunday, picking up tin cans in the hope of recycling them when the lockdown ends. She said hunger has forced her on to the streets to find a way of putting food on the table for her family.

Crying, she said she had gone three consecutive days without food, and survived by drinking water.

“We are all suffering. Our stomachs are burning with hunger. I just pray the lockdown ends soon.”

Chairperson of the eThekwini task team on homelessness and director of the Denis Hurley Centre, Raymond Perrier, said he had noticed more people on the streets in suburbia, begging and hustling for food and money.

“The perception is that they are homeless. Many of them actually are not members of the city’s homeless community. On engaging with them, many of the new people who have taken to the streets in the past few weeks, do have accommodation.

“However, many are battling to pay rent – although there is a law in place forbidding landlords to evict tenants for non-payment at this time. They are without work, without money and are hungry. Their desperation has led them to beg and hustle on the streets,” said Perrier.

He added the challenge was that government feeding schemes were not fully operational, not always easily accessible and not efficiently rolled out.

“This is putting huge pressure on our fragile homeless tented/housed communities, as new people are arriving wanting to be admitted – not because they are homeless, but because they are hungry,” he said.

Perrier added that to cater for the increasing number of people needing accommodation, care and food, three satellite shelters had been opened and were City-run, funded and managed.

“Each site – in Pinetown, Phoenix and Isipingo – has the regulatory fewer than 100 people housed together, and all residents are screened before entry,” he said.

Another Durban mother, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she was also battling to feed her family. She said they feared dying of hunger rather than of Covid-19.

Her husband worked at a  florist before the lockdown and he had had no income since March.

“We rent an outbuilding with our two children, aged 11 and 15. We are now living hand to mouth. It broke my heart when I had to ask for help with a food parcel,” said the sobbing mother.

Clive Pillay of the Coronavirus Action Committee in Chatsworth, said they had initially provided food parcels to pensioners only. However, in recent days there had been a flood of requests from families who were starving. He said their relief efforts had extended outside of Chatsworth.

Gift of the Givers (GOTG) said that since the lockdown, its emergency and counselling toll-free lines had been inundated with calls.

“The requests always go along the lines of ‘Where can we get food? We are starving. We are hungry’,” said GOTG founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.

He said callers were from “every corner of the country” and the pleading had been incessant, with many saying they had to feed a hungry child, a baby or someone who was ill.

“They don’t have income, won’t be getting paid, are not collecting UIF, and probably don’t have a job to go back to. The desperation, the deep sobbing, the insurmountable grief is heart-wrenching.

“The worst is the dignified silent acceptance they give when we have to tell them that not everyone can be assisted,” Sooliman said.

If you can assist please make donations to the:
Gift of the Givers:
Food parcels cost R350 each.
Donations can be sent to:
Gift of the Givers - Standard Bank
Account number 052137228
Branch Code 057525
REF: Corona  

The Coronavirus Action Committee
Food parcels cost R250 each.
Donations can be sent to:
Nelson Mandela Community Youth Centre - Standard Bank
Account number 250 701 820
Branch Code 044126
REF: Food Hampers  

The Mercury

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