Half a cabbage is a meal for seven people as hunger grips the Eastern Cape

Gift of the Givers says it’s inundated with calls for help

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According to Gift of Givers, in one home a grandmother cut half of a small cabbage as dinner for herself and her six grandchildren, planning to beg for more food the next day. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

  • Hunger in the Eastern Cape is becoming a crisis with organisations like Gift of the Givers inundated with calls for help.
  • Regional coordinator Corene Conradie says some families are surviving on samp for months at a time.
  • Gift of the Givers is now working to help households set up food gardens.

The Gift of the Givers Foundation has been inundated with calls for help as hunger in the Eastern Cape is becoming a crisis, says regional coordinator Corene Conradie.

In early August, the bodies of a mother and her three children were found in Butterworth. The mother poisoned her youngest two children, stabbed her teenage daughter in the throat and then hanged herself, The Daily Maverick reported, leaving a suicide note in which she said she was overwhelmed by her burdens.

Conradie said hunger was probably a driving factor in this mother’s decision.

She said hunger had been aggravated by Covid and load shedding. She has seen severely malnourished children in both rural and urban areas.

Gift of the Givers provides 23,000 meals daily in the Eastern Cape, but Conradie said this number is “a drop in the bucket” as lines are always much larger than the amount of food they have.

“We are really inundated with requests for food,” she said.

The malnutrition hotspots Gift of the Givers focuses on in the Eastern Cape are Butterworth, Stutterheim, Dordrecht and Willowmore, Conradie said.

She and her team do door-to-door house assessments of rural areas, and see heartbreaking scenarios.

In the past few weeks, she has seen a household with three boys who have not had groceries for two months, and have only been eating samp.

In another home, a grandmother cut half of a small cabbage as dinner for herself and her six grandchildren, planning to beg for more food the next day.

And last year in the Butterworth area, nine children in one month died of severe food insecurity, Conradie said.

Of 2.1 million (11.6%) of households in South Africa experiencing hunger, 683,221 households had children five years old or younger, according to a 2021 report by Statssa.

The report says children without adequate nutritious food cannot develop properly and have a high risk of acute malnutrition. They also struggle to concentrate and learn, which perpetuates poverty and poor health.

The overwhelming majority - 93% - of recipients of the R350-a-month Social Relief of Distress grant spend it on food, according to the Institute for Economic Justice. The IEJ and #PayTheGrants say many people who should be getting the grant have been excluded and are challenging the regulations applying to the grant in a court case launched in July.

They say millions of people who should be getting the grant are being excluded by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) because of an income means test and a budget cap.

Conradie said that she does not believe the R500 child support grant is enough to feed families, especially in areas like Butterworth, where many people have to take taxis to get food.

SASSA did not respond to a request for comment on these claims.

Conradie said Gift of the Givers is now working to help families establish self-sustainable food gardens.

Last week, she visited a woman who constantly called Gift of the Givers saying she needed food for herself and her whole community.

When Conradie and her team arrived at the home, the woman broke down in tears.

“People are dying,” she kept repeating. “People are struggling. I’m trying to feed the community. But with no resources, it’s difficult.”

TOPICS:  Food security

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