Stop starvation: Poem, video capture agony, despair of masses waiting on president to act on promises
Cape Town – In the first-ever democratic elections in April 1994, millions of South Africans queued over a four-day voting period, in lines often stretching over a kilometre long. They were filled with hope and excitement; a chance to have their dignity restored, brimming with dreams of a new dawn.
Contrast that with the indignity of far too many starving South African families standing in ever-growing queues in the cold and rain during the lockdown in 2020, in the hope of getting their only meal of the day, the victims of a pandemic and broken promises. Queueing not for four days, but for more than four months already.
This indignity was captured in a poignant poem, Street Queues, by Athol Williams, a senior lecturer specialising in corporate responsibility and ethical leadership at UCT's Graduate School as well as a poet and social philosopher.
The poem stemmed from a visit to Tafelsig by Williams, where Joanie Fredericks was feeding hundreds from her home who were patiently waiting in the cold and rain, not sure whether there would be enough food.
A few months ago, Fredericks had sent a video message to President Cyril Ramaphosa which went viral. Now, with that message having had no effect, Tafelsig CAN's Fredericks is one of the organisers behind the Dear Mr President Video Project, on behalf of thousands of other soup kitchens and food activists across South Africa.
This series of videos tell the collective stories of desperate communities across the country in an attempt to get the attention of the president. The videos will be personally delivered by Fredericks and comedian Marc Lottering this week
Capturing the despair of the starving South Africans, Williams ends his poem: “Daily they come, for who can stand the agony of hunger, to queue in the street, from one o’clock for a meal at five, in tragic hope, knowing that not everyone will be fed".
Commenting on how he came to write the poem, Williams told IOL on Tuesday: “This poem stems from an experience in Mitchells Plain in Tafelsig where my brother and I went to drop off food at a place where they were feeding people. This woman, Joanie Fredericks, was doing it from home and people were queueing up and down the street in the cold and rain for food.
“That experience was quite shocking for me. The poem is about the indignity of standing in a street – children, the elderly, mothers and fathers with a bowl in hand – while others drive and walk by.
“I start the poem saying I have gone to the movies and theatre and have stood in a queue. The contrast in the absurdity of what these people are doing, with me doing it for leisure and them doing it fundamentally for food to stay alive.
“This struck me much harder than someone queueing at a traffic light for food; because this felt like life and death.
“Hundreds of them stand in the rain and cold with a bowl in hand, knowing every day that they are not even guaranteed a meal. That human suffering, that indignity, for me was so profound.”
When asked what needed to be done to address this potential catastrophe, Williams said: “Most of our social challenges are top-down and bottom-up. So bottom-up is for us to find these organisations feeding the hungry and to donate to them, particularly on the Cape Flats where it is most acute.
“From the top-down, it is to pressure the government. We have had this surge lately where people have been saying ‘enough is enough’ regarding corruption, but we have to keep up that pressure.
“The people who are standing in the queues are the ones who were promised R350 from the president and it hasn’t arrived. Our people have been let down by even the most basic promise our government has made.
“I have written articles where I have said none of the government’s policies during the pandemic has been pro-poor. I expect the president to start every address by saying these are the things we are doing to ensure no one starves, no one suffers, no one dies.”
Dear Mr President Monday 10 August 2020 As you may recall Mr President five months ago I, Joanie Fredericks,Tafelsig...Posted by Joanie Fredericks on Monday, August 10, 2020
In her letter which accompanies the videos, Fredericks wrote:
Dear Mr President
As you may recall Mr President five months ago I, Joanie Fredericks, Tafelsig activist on the ground, sent you a request for help. Your people did visit and promised to help. No help has arrived yet Mr. President.
The situation is now beyond serious and in need of your personal attention as the Leader of South Africa, Father of our Nation, our President. The reality is that sponsors are no longer able to help and we are battling to feed our communities.
The crisis is deepening Mr President and without real intervention it could become a catastrophe.
With the help of Marc Lottering, comedian and community activist, I have invited other communities engaged in soup kitchens to tell their stories.
We have edited a video that tells the stories of desperate communities across South Africa especially for you Mr President. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I would appreciate the opportunity to present our collective stories and struggle to you in person.
This video is the collective effort of communities across South Africa and I want to thank Marc Lottering and Voice Winner Craig Lucas for this powerful song “What about the People”, specially written for our video, and the master editor and storyteller Munier Parker for this powerful video project. Stories have power and our stories matter, Mr President.
Please help us STOP STARVATION and FEED THE PEOPLE.
People of South Africa Please share the video and use the following hashtags: #DearMrPresident #WhatAboutThePeople #feedthenation #stopstarvation #ourstoriesmatter #communityleaders #communityactivists #notonmywatch #forthepeople