Lockdown Level 5 compliance in South African has been successful. Even people who must be suffering tremendous privations have done their best to comply by staying indoors in cramped conditions, all too often without access to the most basic resources, including food… At this end of the socio-economic scale people are literally facing the choice between lockdown rules that limit the spread of COVID-19 and hunger. At all socio-economic levels we have seen a spirit of generosity that has the capacity to transform our economic and political landscapes.
CAN (COLLECTIVE ACTION NETWORK)
Concerned citizens in my community have taken it upon themselves to do what they can to alleviate this suffering. Some individuals are using their own resources to reach out to homeless people. Others are aware of the plight of foreign nationals who do not qualify for food parcels from the state. Many more people are wanting to ensure that no-one goes hungry at this time, yet don’t know who to approach. Following the example of CAN in Cape Town, NOAH CAN (the Norwood, Orange Grove and Houghton Community Action Network) has been set up. This is one of a growing movement in Johannesburg, sometimes overseen by local Resident’s Associations.
NOAH CAN aka NOAH (NORWOOD, ORANGE GROVE and HOUGHTON COMMUNITY ACTION NETWORK)
A small group of volunteers brought together by the Norwood Precinct CPF chairperson, Colin Wasserfall, has been hard at work coordinating food distribution efforts in Ward 73. Food collection points have been established at Norwood Spar and Norwood Pick ’n Pay. Given that this is an emergency response, the Lower Houghton Residents’ Association has taken responsibility for growing the donations base and for oversight of donations received. If you are a resident of Ward 73 and in a position to assist, their banking details are as follows:
Nedbank Current Account: 1916034543
Killarney Branch: 191605
For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hunger in remote areas of South Africa
While extreme poverty and hunger are being mapped with a view to alleviate it in many of the large urban areas, I imagine that the far-flung rural towns are in need of assistance from outside. What has surprised me is how quiet and uninvolved many of the churches seem to be. While some churches and mosques are handing out food parcels, hot meals seem to be supplied by NGOs. Yet, surely the SACC and the SACBC between them have the databases and the infrastructure to reach remote communities and to co-ordinate hunger relief. Are they perhaps constrained by the regulations prohibiting religious gatherings? Disturbingly, Cape Town’s mayor has reported the arrest of someone running a soup kitchen. Perhaps they failed to comply with safety regulations? Is there a mismatch between what the legislation seeks to achieve and the actions of some essential services officials to abuse their expanded powers?
Obviously, when the safety regulations are flouted, the police are expected to enforce the law. Yet are they not meant to be enforced with respect for life? Is there a lack of understanding of the basic safety measures recommended by WHO? As I understand them, they are (in bold):
1. Stay home as much as you possibly can. If it is possible for you to work from home, do so. (In South Africa, until such time as all restrictions are lifted, there should be no tax penalties for doing so?)
2. When you interact with people, whether it be indoors or outdoors, use a face mask that complies with safety regulations. From social media I have learnt that the simplest test is: you should not be able to blow out a match through your mask. If it is a fabric mask, test it out at home by wearing it for thirty minutes. I presume this means that if it is comfortable for thirty minutes then it is comfortable for longer. (I tried this out with my locally produced fabric mask. I had to refrain from trying to blow my nose; I find anything on my face claustrophobic so it required some positive self-talk to stick it out. Resisting the desire to blow a nose that didn’t need blowing was a major achievement for me. The R50 I paid for it was well worth it, for it is as comfortable as a mask can be. It is beautifully made and it provides a small income for a resident who otherwise would not have one. Those mass producing for the state have other parameters to comply with, including selling them at R20 each…)
3. In company, keep a safe physical distance. This has been gazetted as 1.5m apart. If someone is distracted, politely inform them that you would feel better if they complied with this rule. (In fact, the Quick WHO quizz I took focuses on safe physical distancing as the most basic measure to prevent coronavirus infection.)
4. Use sanitizer when entering a retail premise. In South Africa this must be provided free of charge. Many stores also provide sanitizer as you leave.
5. Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. Ensure that you do so thoroughly. One person recommends that you scratch the bar of soap with your nails in order to clean beneath them. It is recommended that you do this as often as possible. (I presume this is especially important for people who are in and out regularly, for example, essential services workers.)
The Status of Soup Kitchens
The regulations related to employees returning to work under Level 4 regulations use the above basic guidelines as their ground rules. Why can they not be applied to soup kitchens? While it is sound policy to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, it is simaltaneously a breach of justice to expect people to go hungry, even starve, as the price they have to pay for doing so. A report, Hidden Hunger in South Africa, published by OXFAM in 2014, concludes with, “Perhaps a start in addressing hunger is to call it by its name and describe what it means for real people, and not disguise or distance it behind technical terms such as ‘food insecurity’.” If this is not attended to with the urgency that it requires, post-lockdown we may have to set up a Lockdown Court to fine and/or imprison anyone preventing hungry people from obtaining the nourishment they needed. Especially during this period of enforced isolation. Yet it would be better for all concerned if everyone than needs food is provided with the means to do so.
To this end, I would like food gardening across the country to be re-classified as ‘farming’ – whether rural or urban farming. To this end nurseries should be allowed to open, even if all they may sell are seeds and seedlings (herbs and vegetables), fruit trees, compost, fertilisers, gardening equipment, fencing, pots…everything needed to grow nutritious food.
In relation to this, I was upset to see a request put out by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. Provision of farming production inputs for smallholder and communal farmers is being sought. Included in the inputs are fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides. Yet do we really have to poison the land? Wouldn’t it be better if the food we produce is nutritious? Has the Minister, Ms Thokozile Didiza, not heard of eco-agriculture or permaculture. Or, at the very least, organic farming? Perhaps she has. Perhaps her hands are tied to agendas the public are not privy to…Smart Agriculture on the loose?
Let’s reverse that. Let everyone who wants to grow their own food, do so. Let our degraded spaces be put to productive use. Let’s do so in ways that restore our spiritual ingerity. Let’s restore our connection to the nature through the way in which we grow food.
Sources and Resources
Johannesburg Ward 73: http://groupspaces.com/ward73
Status of soup kitchens during lockdown: http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/western-cape/plato-requests-urgent-clarity-on-soup-kitchens-during-lockdown-after-arrest-47352697
DA’s Response to Level 4 lockdown regulations: http://m.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/da-not-buying-governments-draconian-level-4-lockdown-restrictions-20200430
For wider context: Freedom day speech by Julius Malema: