OPINION: Now is the time for government to deliver

Columnist Phiri Cawe.

They say a hungry man is an angry man.

And in recent times, this hasn’t been more evident than during the Covid-19 pandemic which has left many economically disabled and dependent on food parcels to feed their families.

As we move into level 3 of lockdown and restrictions on a number of activities are eased, I pray that pain, suffering and discouragement are erased from poor people’s minds, and that corruption, greed and selfishness are absent from the actions of government officials and councillors.

And I pray that there will be the political will to adequately respond to the growing number of starving communities because I feel that government is falling short when it comes to the distribution of food packages and the relief fund – a sentiment I’m sure is shared by many others.

Among others, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed people’s true colours, through the way they have treated others – and many have downplayed or underestimated the seriousness of Covid-19 and its impact on the economy and our lives.

In the case of the townships, in the poverty-stricken areas, where people have nothing and had nothing even before the lockdown, we thought people would just listen to what was said by the powers-that-be.

Come the day when we are cleared of this virus, we will look back and say, it was not – and had never been – easy. We would not wish for its return or any other cruel pandemic like this one.

Ironic as it may sound, we entered lockdown with high hopes. We were optimistic that there would be food for all and when our president made promises about food parcels and relief funds, we all thought Jerusalem was here.

When the poor and unemployed heard these promises and inspiring words, they forgot one thing – that those who would have access to the donations and who would be responsible for distributing food parcels would be the same people they had always accused of not caring about them – their councillors.

When Sandile “Makhendlas” Dastile was shot dead in Mfuleni, allegedly because there were people unhappy about how he was distributing food parcels, I thought it was only a matter of time that would happen.

I felt that way not because I am heartless but because
there has been a string of complaints coming to us about food parcels.

From Nkanini to Langa, we’ve been getting calls from the communities that councillor X is selling food parcels or that councillor Y has given food parcels to his or her friends, family and politically-aligned individuals.

Every time one gets such messages and calls, you see the seriousness of poverty and the prevalence of greed. It is greed because those tasked with distributing food should not take the parcels for themselves or hand them over only to those who share their political affiliation.

But. In our beloved South Africa, everything is political – and we are even politicising the coronavirus, which is arguably the biggest threat to our lives in recent times.

The looting of food hampers meant for the poor shows our lack of ubuntu and responsibility, and an inherent selfishness, greed and stupidity – and I was taken back to pre-1994 … the expectations before the new dawn.

The unfulfilled promises reminded me of all the years before each election – national and municipal. How many times have we been promised things that never happened?

Now, more than ever, government needs to deliver and food parcels must find their way to those who need them most.