Hundreds of destitute people - including the elderly and children - in the city were spared a hungry Christmas after the Gauteng High Court Pretoria last week ordered the provincial Department of Social Development to immediately pay over the money it owed so that meals could be provided for these people.
The court was told that due to the non payment of a service level agreement by the department, these vulnerable people had been without any food since November 1. The court was also told that there was some food left to feed them to a certain extent during October, but until shortly before Christmas, they received no meals.
Woolworths, however, assisted those who were on chronic medication for the time being.
The volunteers which assisted in feeding them, were also left without their payment.
In their opposition to the urgent application, the department was mum about the reason for not making the payment as earlier agreed to. Instead, the department attacked the urgency of the matter and questioned why the court was now tasked with this application after the people had been without food since October.
Lawyers for Human Rights assisted the NGO Kitso Lesedi Community Development - which provides three meals a day, seven days a week - to shelters in the city and to other destitute people - to turn to court.
The CEO of Lesedi, Maki Tselapedi, said in court papers that the NGO and the department had concluded a service level agreement in terms of which the department would pay them R11-million annually to provide the meals to selected temporary shelters.
However, she said, the last payment was not made, thus the food had dried up for nearly two months.
Lesedi is tasked to provide food to various shelters, which include No 2 Struben Street shelter and another in Madiba Street.
Tselapedi said this is done in accordance with a business plan approved by the department.
According to her, the problems started in October, when officials of the department visited No 2 Struben Street.
She said a departmental official told her that there were complaints about the conditions at the shelter. The official wanted to know details about funds invested by government into the shelter.
Tselapedi said she then explained that the majority of the money received by the department went into buying food for this and the Madiba Street shelters. She also explained that Lesedi is not responsible for the maintenance of the facilities. She said this was the task of the City of Tshwane, who knew about the challenges.
While the City did provide some mobile toilets, these were not serviced, but Tselapedi said the NGO brought six mobile toilets to the shelter, which were serviced three times a week.
Tselapedi said the official then told her the place is not conducive and that she “will write it off.”
The court was told that since then, no more money was forthcoming from the department.
Since then children, the elderly and pregnant women were left hungry, the court was told.
Tselapedi said these people were destitute and without jobs, yet they had to suffer hunger as the department went back on its word to honour its contract.
In its opposing papers, Departmental official Mpho Mokoena at length argued that the matter was not urgent, as Lesedi “knew since October that the department did not pay.”
Yet, the court was left in the dark as to the reason for the non payment.