South Africa: COVID-19 Roundup - Food Parcels and Water Shortages

Constant adaptation is the battle plan in South Africa as the coronavirus continues to spread, but the politicisation of food and a lack of water in the Eastern Cape have compounded the fight.

While many call for the easing of lockdown regulations, millions of financially strapped citizens across the country continue to struggle with access to food relief. Although various systems have been put in place to ensure fair distribution to qualifying households, there have been several controversies around food parcel distribution including the politicisation of food, favouritism and mismanagement of food parcels by councillors at a municipal level.

The Gauteng government is encouraging qualifying residents to get in touch, but has been inundated with requests as demand outweighs supply. Linda Vilane, 39, said she has struggled to get through on the government hotline despite trying many times.

In Emfuleni on the East Rand, a case was opened against Department of Social Development officials who allegedly stole food parcels and gave them to their own families. There have also been cases of food delivered to the homes of ANC officials, who in turn allegedly distributed them to members of the party or stockpiled them. In the City of Tshwane, administrator Mpho Nawa was accused of politicising food when he promised to organise a meeting with military veterans about food parcels.

On Wednesday 13 May, a local government department in the Western Cape confirmed that councillors would not be involved in the distribution of food parcels after it was revealed in previous committee meetings that food parcels were allegedly being distributed along party lines to DA members.

Parliament called on the South African Local Government Association to deal decisively with councillors involved in acts of corruption.

Acting Gauteng member of the executive council for social development Panyaza Lesufi repeated the message: "GPG [the Gauteng government] will not tolerate politicisation of food and ... councillors are not involved in the processing and distribution of food managed by [the] Department of Social Development."

Water problems

In water-scarce Eastern Cape, the provincial government announced on Wednesday 13 May that 5 284 rainwater tanks had been delivered and 3 972 installed at sites across the province. A further seven boreholes had been drilled, said Eastern Cape Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs spokesperson Makhaya Komisa.

Komisa said that "320 boreholes are being drilled across the province and will be completed during June 2020 to benefit local communities of our province". But the government has refused, despite repeated requests, to say where the water tanks have been placed.

In uMgwalana, a two-hour drive inland from Mthatha, for the past six months residents have been scooping water out of a muddy hole that used to be a river. They have now been provided with tanks, but no water. "There are tanks from early last month but no water in them, and we've been struggling with water since November last year. So, we are forced to use water from the river since the rain is scarce now," said uMgwalana resident Lisa Nakani.

While water tanks may benefit areas that have no water at all, there are still water shortages in the province. Nomsa Miso of the South African National Civic Organisation said that in the township areas of Cala, there is not enough water and some areas had been overlooked.

Nomvuso Nopote of the Siyazakha Land Rights and Development Forum said: "The areas surrounding Cala are still struggling to have water. A nearby village even came to my community yesterday [on Thursday 14 May] to fetch water from our taps, which means they haven't got any tanks."

Domestic workers struggling

Domestic workers are in a precarious situation. Many have been stranded without an income since the government announced the Covid-19 lockdown. Only 20% of the one million domestic workers in South Africa are registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). Numerous applications by domestic workers for the government's Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme, known as TERS, have been unsuccessful and many workers have not been able to apply because their employers have absconded from their legal obligation to register them.

The South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (Sadsawu), supported by the Izwi Domestic Worker Alliance and the United Domestic Workers of South Africa, recommended that the minister of employment and labour, the UIF commissioner and the National Coronavirus Command Council declare domestic workers contributors to the UIF so they can access UIF relief funds during the lockdown.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute, representing Sadsawu, said the law allows them to declare a class of workers contributors to the UIF. The institute asked the government to use the UIF Act to declare domestic workers contributors to the UIF for the duration of the lockdown.

Street traders battling

The South African Informal Traders Alliance (Saita) has challenged the City of Cape Town's position on issuing permits to street traders to operate from the Grand Parade. When traders approached the City, they were told that "flea markets" were not allowed to operate during lockdown and that they should rather apply for the R350 social relief of distress grant.

The Legal Resources Centre wrote a letter on behalf of Saita telling the City of Cape Town to reconsider its position on not issuing permits. Its challenge notes that the Grand Parade market is not a flea market and that traders provide goods deemed to be essential during the lockdown.

The matter might head to court, depending on the City's response, which was due on Wednesday 13 May.

Covid-19's impact on tax

One of the next victims of the virus is likely to be the tax revenue that funds services to Johannesburg residents. The municipality's revenue dropped in April and it is considering further relief mechanisms for ratepayers. Rebates on property rates, from which the municipality derives most of its revenue, water, electricity and refuse removal are already in force.

"The City has to align budgeted programmes ... to ensure that a more prudent approach to fiscal management of the current budget is adhered to," said member of the mayoral committee for finance Jolidee Matongo. The City's divided council has yet to pass the amendments to its budget for the year.

Aids and TB

Sub-Saharan Africa could experience a high number of deaths from Aids-related illness if there are any interruptions to the provision of HIV services in the region during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the World Health Organization and United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS).

The exercise they undertook estimates that an interruption of antiretroviral therapy for six months could lead to 500 000 additional deaths from Aids-related illnesses, as well as tuberculosis, in 2020 and 2021.

"The exercise is not meant to say that this is what is happening, but to think ahead. To know in case there are interruptions, what should we prioritise. And also prepare where we can so that we don't have those interruptions," UNAIDS community support adviser Christoforos Mallouris told New Frame.

Back to school?

There's still uncertainty around the reopening of schools. In Limpopo, the Department of Basic Education was taken to court to stop the reopening of schools.

"The Department of Basic Education welcomes the judgment by the Limpopo high court, which dismissed an application by the Tebeila Institute of Leadership, Governance and Training," said the department. Further details about plans to resume schooling are scheduled to be announced on Monday 18 May.

Tightening lockdown

Police Minister Bheki Cele visited Pietermaritzburg and Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, where residents continued to violate lockdown regulations.

In Pietermaritzburg, several roadblocks reportedly found that people were failing to abide by even the basic lockdown regulations of social distancing and wearing a mask.

Cele expressed concern about the increasing number of Covid-19 cases as well as the public's seemingly nonchalant attitude towards the spread of the virus.

"Physical distancing, masks and sanitisers are things that they have never heard of," Cele reportedly said while issuing a stern warning about how things will get worse if people continue to ignore the regulations, particularly at level four of the government's lockdown.

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