Government payment delay forces Joburg’s biggest food bank to close

But the Department of Social Development claims the delay is caused by investigations into the food banks

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This food bank, run by the Believers Care Society, closed this week due to delays in funding from the Gauteng Department of Social Development. Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro

  • Johannesburg’s biggest food bank has closed its doors this week.
  • This is due to delays in funding from the Gauteng Department of Social Development.
  • It is one of at least five food banks that are receiving thousands of food parcels from suppliers, but no funds to distribute them.
  • The department claims that the food bank is “under investigation”, which has delayed the signing of contracts for the new financial year. But it provided no details on what allegations the food bank faces.

One of the largest food banks in Johannesburg was forced to close its doors this week due to delays in funding from the Gauteng Department of Social Development.

The food bank, run by the Believers Care Society, distributes about 5,000 parcels per month.

Several other food banks in Gauteng are also on the verge of closure due to funding delays. This follows months of insufficient stock to distribute food parcels to beneficiaries.

The department’s spokesperson Themba Gadebe told GroundUp that Believers Care Society and other food banks are currently “under investigation”. He provided no further details of what allegations the food bank faces. The food bank declined to comment.

According to a senior department official with close knowledge of the situation, there are about 1,800 food parcels ready for distribution which are locked inside the food bank’s building. Food banks are still receiving parcels from suppliers contracted by the department, but have not received funds to distribute them.

The official said that Believers Care Society had defaulted on its rent and the landlord confiscated the keys. GroundUp visited the food bank in Booysens, Johannesburg on Monday and found the doors locked.

A security guard at the premises told our reporter that the food bank was still open on Friday. About 20 people work at the facility, the security guard said. Believers Care Society declined to comment on this.

Between them, the food banks feed thousands of families across Gauteng who depend on the parcels. The department’s target is to reach 100,000 households a year through its food security programme.

The food banks are dependent on funding from the provincial Department of Social Development and cannot pay their rent or staff’s salaries.

But GroundUp understands that funds meant for operational expenses, including rent and salaries, have not been paid since the start of the financial year. This, according to our source, has been caused by a delay in the signing of Service Level Agreements with the organisations running the food banks.

According to written answers by MEC for Social Development Mbali Hlope to questions posed by the DA’s Refiloe Nt’sheke on 26 March, spending on the department’s food relief programs amounted to R185.7-million by 25 February. This included R17.8-million on food banks and a total of R74-million on food parcels meant for households and HIV clinics.

GroundUp has seen emails between senior managers at DSD, including the former department head Matilda Gasela. The communication shows that by 31 March, no decision had yet been taken on which food banks would continue to be funded for 2024/25 financial year.

A leaked internal memo from 17 April explains some of the challenges that the department’s food programme has faced. Food banks were without food for the “most part of 2023/24” due to the expiration of the tender to supply parcels, according to the memo from acting deputy director-general Bongani Ngomane. (Ngomane has been appointed acting Head of Department after Gasela left at the end of April.)

In none of the internal communications, seen by GroundUp, is it mentioned that Believers Care Society is under investigation.

The leaked memo from 17 April states that new suppliers were appointed in February 2024 and have been delivering food parcels to the food banks. But at the food banks in Johannesburg and West Rand, suppliers’ deliveries of food parcels were incomplete and of low quantities, according to the memo.

While the food parcels from the suppliers were being delivered, there was no payment from the department to the food banks to distribute them.

The memo proposes that, pending the outcome of the 2024/25 funding allocations, month-to-month contracts are to be signed with food banks until May 2024, when the contract for the new suppliers end.

Each food bank would receive about R600,000 for April and May, according to the memo. According to GroundUp’s source, some of the food banks have already signed the month-to-month contracts, but there are still issues with processing payments.

Believers Care Society’s food bank has not been given a contract. The future of the food banks’ funding beyond May is still uncertain.

Gauteng MEC for Finance Jacob Mamabolo told eNCA in April that the food parcel tender is under investigation.

In the meantime, thousands of families are suffering and going hungry while their food parcels at these food banks stand ready for distribution.

TOPICS:  Food and nutrition Social Development mismanagement

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