The poor and vulnerable, sick and needy face a bleak festive season as food banks in Gauteng run dry.
Saying they had been forced to conduct an inspection at the stores in Pretoria and Ekurhuleni, the DA blamed the provincial government of a lack of care for those who depended on them for sustenance, and in particular the Department of Social Development, which is responsible for ensuring there is enough food for those who cannot afford to buy it.
Established in 2020 - at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the food banks were meant to bridge the poverty gap and ensure that no one went to bed hungry, especially at the time when the country was in hard lock down and as people lost means to generate an economy.
Donors at the time started bringing consumable and non-consumables to the stores in Tshwane and Ekurhuleni, to distribute food to those who needed it.
Post the pandemic, the cities continued to accept donations and to dispense parcels to communities in need, with Tshwane, for instance, giving food parcels to residents from Itireleng and Salvokop this year when they were affected by fires.
The qualification for such assistance has, the department said, been underpinned by the lack of an income at any given time, especially from the state or at any food retailer. Those with children were to be given first preference, evidence that there was no other means for food or money a requirement.
“Qualifying residents would have food parcels delivered at their doorstep,” they added.
And while the department did not respond to the allegations that the food banks had run dry by yesterday, the DA said had conducted oversight visits to the facilities and had found that there was no food.
“We received numerous complaints from vulnerable Gauteng residents and embarked on an oversight inspection to the Ekurhuleni and Tshwane food banks, where we discovered that they have indeed run dry.”
This, they continued, meant vulnerable residents would have nothing to survive on as the country went into the festive season.
“People living with chronic illnesses are the most affected, as they will need food to take medication, as will those who receive food parcels from the department.”
Said the party’s spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, Refiloe Nt’sekh: “This is unacceptable, and demonstrates the incompetence and lack of planning by the Gauteng MEC for Social Development, Mbali Hlophe.”
It meant, she said, that the most vulnerable of the province faced a bleak festive season. “The most vulnerable, who are solely dependent on the Department of Social Development for food, will starve as the provincial food banks have run out of stock.”
In Tshwane, the city in September said the Food Bank supported more than 15 000 families and 24 non-governmental organisations, who in turn accommodated and assisted homeless people with food relief. “The Tshwane Food Bank also extends help with relief efforts after disasters such as floods and fires.”
They said they remained commitment to providing social relief and support to residents, while the motto for the one in Ekurhuleni was ‘The hungry must be fed’.
The DA said they would be writing to Hlophe, to demand answers to the situation.