Monde Nqulwana, councillor, Ward 89

As the country continues to grapple with the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the world being forced into an unprecedented state of discombobulation, Khayelitsha the country’s second biggest township, has not been spared by the pandemic, becoming the first township in the Western Cape – and the country – to record its first case of Covid-19 on March 28.

At June 1 Khayelitsha had more than 2 566 positive cases, with 1 625 recoveries.

Khayelitsha has always felt the impact and burden of illness with 30% with chronic illnesses.

It was always going to be expected that the number of infections would spike due to the poor socio-economic conditions the people of Khayelitsha are living in.

Currently Khayelitsha has over 94 000 South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) grant beneficiaries, with more than 62 000 getting child support grants and 15 000, old age grant, with the rest dependent on other kinds of grants.

Food security for the majority of poor working class people such as those of Khayelitsha has been at an all-time low.

The announcement of the lockdown, which required all South Africans to stay at home and only go out for essential goods brought massive change to the lives of many poor people, hence there was a huge need for food parcels as a relief.

A commitment was made by government through the Department of Social Development that Sassa will be providing food parcels to unemployed and distressed people during the pandemic.

At first it was whole-heartedly welcomed while it presented challenges for the poor working class communities who were now not working due to lockdown regulations.

As we started helping indigent people with the criterion set by Sassa to submit their details for verification, the process itself was too bureaucratic (over-concerned with procedure at the expense of efficiency or common sense) for that commitment to be successfully measured. With demand on the ground, as councillors we had to find a way through to assist our community

If it were a commercial asset, the term “food parcel” would by now rank just below the Zoom App as it became a buzzword for many reasons.

Sassa’s capacity to deliver on its mandate raised questions of corrupt practices as some councillors in some parts of the country were found redirecting what was meant for poor people.

Demand for food relief was continuously increasing as people were put out of work by the lockdown.

As part of the comprehensive local strategy to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on the livelihoods of the people of Khayelitsha, ward councillors, assisted by community leaders and street committees, mobilised all stakeholders and relevant sectors within Khayelitsha with the view to facilitating a seamless and corrupt-free food parcel distribution process.

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To this end, the programme entailed a careful, but cumbersome process of identifying indigent households and a detailed action plan for the equitable distribution of food parcels across all the 13 wards of Khayelitsha.

Thank you to all the good Samaritans representing private business and community organisations working within different wards in our communities who came forward to help feed our people when the lockdown was at its early stages

Considering the huge demand which amounted to over 39 000 eligible beneficiaries with an average of 3 000 per ward, we had to be meticulous in our planning and co-ordination. This notwithstanding the disturbing claims and allegations that were made against us (councillors) during the level 5 lockdown period that some among us were abusing and even looting food parcels that were meant for the poor.

As such, the distribution of food parcels was centralised within Sassa offices where potential beneficiaries were first invited for feasibility tests and eventually approved as beneficiaries.

While President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown on March 23, government food parcels were only seen or started to be distributed from April 15, continuing until May 29.

A total of 2 385 food parcels were distributed, with beneficiaries totalling about 11 675 (an average of five per household) people for the whole of Khayelitsha. In addition to this, an estimated 39 000 indigent households – totalling 195 000 people at an average of five per household – also benefited.

Here we had a whole month without any movement by Sassa to feed the poor needy communities.

However, as new cases of coronavirus infections continue to rise and with Khayelitsha being a hotspot, the socio-economic conditions under which people continue to live serve as a painful reminder of the legacy of apartheid’s skewed spatial planning and the discriminatory laws that defined the racist character of that discredited regime.

Therefore, accordingly, the response to this public health emergency requires a co-ordinated effort through a multi-pronged sectoral approach that would minimise the risks of further infections.

It is for this reason that the Khayelitsha Development Forum took a conscious and deliberate decision to bring together leaders from different ideological background and elsewhere to save the lives of our people.

Central to our efforts to overcome and eventually defeat this invisible enemy is mass mobilisation, harnessing scarce and skills within our community, but more importantly exercising personal hygiene and observing the basic preventative measures like wearing face masks and social distancing.

To quote the renowned Marxist Leninist, Lui Shaoqi, I argue that while the outbreak of the coronavirus has exposed the deep-seated socio-economic inequalities in society and the vulnerability of the capitalist system, it also provided us with an opportunity advance and deepen the struggle for the total emancipation of the poor and the working class masses of the Western Cape.