’I have been applying for food and grant relief but I haven’t got an answer yet’

Johannesburg – For the second time in a month, Lindi Mthembu returned home empty-handed after spending a day in a long queue for food parcels at the Phiri Community Hall in Soweto this week.

Mthembu, a breadwinner in a family of 16, is one of thousands of Gauteng residents who have been repeatedly snubbed whenever food parcels were being distributed.

For the 49-year-old mother of two, the procedure followed by the government in allocating food parcels and determining who benefits from the R500 billion Covid-19 relief fund is both unfair and riddled with discrimination and nepotism.

“I went to the hall to see what was happening and I saw people standing in the queues to receive the food parcels, and I joined them. My name was not mentioned on the list, and when I asked, I was told that I did not receive an SMS,” said Mthembu.

The unemployed mother has two daughters, four cousins and 11 grandchildren to feed.

One of her daughters, Mpho, said she had tried to apply for both food and social grant relief, without success.

“I have been applying for food and grant relief but I haven’t got an answer, even today.

“This is sad because we depend on our children’s grants to survive. Everyone is trying to balance from their children’s grant, and it’s not enough. It doesn’t last us for the whole month. It’s worse because nobody is working,” said Mpho, 34.

Mthembu’s story is no different from that of her neighbour Nondumiso Ncamane, who looks after her family of eight – one child, her sisters’ two children and five siblings. The 34-year-old mother lost her parents in 2012.

Ncamane, who completed her furniture management course last year, said her family depends on her children’s social grant as her search for a job has yielded no positive results.

“This is difficult; you may ask what’s wrong with you. With the grant money we buy only the basics, but it’s not enough and food is expensive,” Ncamane said.

She said she used to survive by doing laundry for households in the area, but the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in March dealt her a serious blow.

“But now things are worse because of Covid-19. People had to take salary cuts and others lost their jobs, and this also affected me because they used to pay me for washing their clothes,” Ncamane added.

“I’ve applied for food relief and even the councillor came and registered us, but I am still waiting to receive my share to this day.”

Thandi Mofokeng, 65, and her friend Dora Rapoho, 56, shared Mthembu and Ncamane’s sentiments, adding that they still awaited their food parcels. “This is sad. We have no food at home and we are stuck,” Mofokeng said.

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Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency

Matlaletsa Mokhunoane, a resident of Sebokeng in the Vaal, said he had given up on the food and grant relief as the Department of Social Development failed to give him feedback.

“I have applied for food 11 times and twice for R350.

“I have realised this is a waste of time because these people (the departments) are not answering our calls, messages and emails,” said Mokhunoane.

The Gauteng Department of Social Development’s spokesperson, Thabiso Hlongwane said the department was aware that some Soweto residents have been denied access to food parcels but insisted they were not involved in the distribution of food parcels at the country’s biggest township.

He said distribution could be through the City of Joburg, churches or non-profit organisations.

“We are aware of those who have not received food and we are urging them to be patient as the department is yet to come.

“Some of those who have not received the social relief grant is because they did not qualify.

“Some did not have bank accounts and some did not provide their full details in terms of being traced.

“The government should help families that get less than R3500 a month,” said Hlongwane.

However, a staff member of Tholulwazi, an NPO which distributes food parcels, said the project had been organised by the Gauteng Department of Social Development.

City spokesperson Nthatisi Modingwane did not respond to enquiries as to whether the City was involved in the project.

SA Social Security Agency spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi did not respond to a request for comment. SA National Civic Organisation co-ordinator in Gauteng, Portia Mokoena said some people who had been referred to the Gauteng Department of Social Development’s call centre had not been assisted.

“Unfortunately, not everyone we linked with the call centre received food, as expected, and many are still waiting to this day.

“As a programme of action, we have requested a meeting with the MEC of Social Development to get a grasp of what the problem is and the solutions thereto,” Mokoena said.

The Sunday Independent

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