SA's hunger is everyone's problem - especially the well-fed

28 May 2020

When a crisis strikes, often the most urgent need is for food. In line with the National State of Disaster, we should ensure we give aid to anyone within our borders who needs it, writes Mary Jane Morifi Chief Corporate Affairs & Sustainability Officer at Tiger Brands

While we debate the economics and epidemiology of the national lockdown – who should be allowed to trade, and whether it’s more productive to centralise or decentralise food distribution –we cannot lose sight of our most pressing crisis: feeding anyone who needs help regardless of whether they are in South Africa legally or not. Despite severely limited fiscal resources, the realities of rising Government debt, and the beginnings of what will likely be a deep recession, food aid and food security must reach all the vulnerable within our borders to avoid a greater humanitarian crisis

Hunger does not discriminate. Nor should our response

Aerial footage of South Africa’s food aid queues shows the extent of the desperation out there, with lines as long as four kilometres.

Some have queued since the middle of the night, arriving with children and blankets to wait until distribution begins.

Others are elderly who sit bent-over on dirt roads for hours with no food security, ignoring the cautions of social distancing and vulnerabilities of their age because they have no option to secure food for their families.

Others still are foreign nationals from other southern African nations, many of whom have a harder time proving that they qualify for aid. Although SASSA has reiterated that social relief of distress (SRD) will be paid to South African citizens, permanent residents and refugees with insufficient means , asylum seekers with unprocessed/lapsed paperwork and undocumented migrants say that the needs citizens are being prioritised. In some areas, there appears to be a disconnect between SASSA’s stated position and the actions of local councillors in charge of distribution.

Food availability is a critical aspect of food security and we call on everyone who plays a part in this value chain do what they can to unlock the bottlenecks. As a food producer with the means to distribute food either directly or thought our partners, it is devastating to see the impact of unnecessary red tape, including issues around distribution models and whether centralisation is really more effective than allowing NGOs to feed whoever needs it. At Tiger Brands, we’ve designed our hampers to feed a family of four for a month if eaten in accordance with portion size, which reduces the number of times that families need to queue for aid. Our hampers are also designed to have a long shelf and can be consumed over many meals rather than just once.

Back to foreign nationals. I must echo the recent joint statement by the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and the Centre of Applied Legal Studies at Wits University: “this is not a time to exclude certain populations within society, neither is it a time to reinforce negative attitudes against non-nationals.” It is critical that we appreciate that this is a global humanitarian crisis, not a South African crisis. History will (and should) judge us harshly if we do not approach this with a sincere need to help everyone who is need. We must do what we can to unlock the bottleneck around food distribution or we face the very real risk that the humanitarian crisis will shadow the efforts to flatten the curve.

There is ample support in international law and our own Constitution to guide us here. International human rights law says that every human being has the right to adequate food in emergency situations, including both natural and man-made disasters. And as a member-state of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, South Africa affirms “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”.

Section 27(1) of our Constitution also states that “everyone has the right to adequate food and water” within the State’s available resources. Although the right to food is not the same as the right to be provided food, and although this is a progressively realised right the resources of the State, the effects of Covid-19 have made it almost impossible for many to provide for themselves.

Even as countries have closed their borders, we must remember that a pandemic is borderless. Our response should likewise be free of any bureaucracy or favouritism at this stage of the lockdown. Let us all keep on giving as much as we can to whoever needs it and ensure food security. Let us remind ourselves what it means to do the right thing.

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