“Dying is dying, whether it is from coronavirus or hunger,” says Tsakane woman

“If the government cannot give us food parcels as promised, it should let us go back to work and hustle for our families to eat”

Photo of a woman

“Clearly the government is failing. It’s better that this lockdown thing be put to an end. To me dying is dying – whether it is from coronavirus or hunger,” said Lindiwe Likhubu. Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro

By Kimberly Mutandiro

22 April 2020

“I can’t believe l almost died over food parcels,” sobbed Nonkikelelo Mceki of ward 82 in Tsakane. Other residents had just saved her from being beaten by a young man who accused her and others of invading church ground in Geluksdal, Brakpan, to demand food parcels.

Mceki and the other members of the community woke up early in the morning on Tuesday and walked from their homes in Tsakane extension 1 to Geluksdal, about seven kilometres away.

Word had been going around that the ward councillor for the area would be distributing food parcels at Geluksdal Rehoba Christian Fellowship church.

But to the people’s disappointment, church members told them there were no food parcels.

Ward 82 Councillor Desmond Henry Buitendacht (ANC) was also present. He told them to go and register for government food parcels at their community voting districts (VDs).

“It is unfair that people should come from their VDs in Tsakane and ask for food parcels here in Geluksdal. I’m surprised that some people here are not even from my ward. I advise you to go and see ANC committee members in your VDs and register for food parcels there. This is a private church, if ever food parcels were given it would be by the church to its private members,” Buitendacht told the group of residents.

They started shouting at the councillor. They told him that they had gone to various places in search of food during the past week but in vain. “You are busy giving the food parcels to your coloured brothers and sisters. You come to us wanting our votes ,now that we voted, you are sending us away,” yelled a woman.

Fights broke out between the residents and people at the church, before the crowd dispersed.

“The counsellor who conducts the counselling program has been giving her clients food parcels for months. The food parcels in our church are for those specific people. We are surprised to see people coming in the morning asking for food parcels. They were given wrong information. We also give food parcels to school children from our after-care program,” explained Christel Smit, a church member.

“The government should make a plan and distribute the parcels in our communities,” said Mceki.

Mceki lost her domestic work in town due to the lockdown. She lives with her elderly grandmother and eight unemployed siblings. All of them rely on the grandmother’s pension.

She said no one in the township had real information on the distribution of food parcels. “If the government cannot give us food parcels as promised, it should scrap the lockdown and let us go back to work and hustle for our families to eat,” she said.

Buitendacht told GroundUp, “The racial element should be completely written off in the whole process because Geluksdal people have been accusing me of favouring Tsakane people.”

He said government food parcels had been dispatched by the mayoral committee at a launch in Springs on Friday. “There was a launch of the food bank in Springs by the Ekhurhuleni mayoral committee on Friday. There were many councillors present and about 149 food parcels were dispatched to councillors. l got 25 food parcels which l distributed to people from a batch of lists which l received from the community. However, l do not have any more food parcels from the government at the moment and we are trying to come up with a solution so that people get food parcels,” he said.

He said he would consult with other councillors in the area to try and find a solution to the food parcel crisis.

He said he had also received less than 50 parcels from other sources and he had given these mostly to people in Tsakane and some in Geluksdal. He showed a batch of lists of over hundred people whom he said were still in need of food parcels.

Vuyo Musina, a resident, said she had been to a local school on Monday and to Geluksdal on Tuesday but got nothing. “All seven people in our family depend on my child’s grant money. Things are bad. Sometimes neighbours help us but now they say they have nothing because of lockdown. If l do not get food parcels l don’t know what we will do,” she said.

“There are over nine of us at home and we are not working,” said another resident, Lindiwe Likhubu. “I have two disabled children who are not getting any grant. My daughter gets occasional work and buys mielie meal. But now she cannot work because of the lockdown.”

“Clearly the government is failing. It’s better that this lockdown thing be put to an end. To me dying is dying, whether it is from coronavirus or hunger,” she said.