Hidden costs reduce value of food parcels for needy

Maggie Jacobs, from Lapland in Uitenhage, fears that looting will become the order of the day if people do not get food soon
TICKING TIME BOMB: Maggie Jacobs, from Lapland in Uitenhage, fears that looting will become the order of the day if people do not get food soon

Though the government set aside R1,200 for food parcels for the poor and hungry, the actual value of what people are getting in their packages in Nelson Mandela Bay is less than R800 —  hidden costs are eating up the rest.

 The cost of the food in the packages, according to individual — not bulk — selling prices at Makro this week, totalled just R780. 

Earlier this month, Sassa, said it was forking out R1,365 per package, revising this a week later to R1,200.

Asked about the cost of the packages — and told that the goods inside amounted to less than R800 — Sassa regional manager Bandile Maqetuka said the contractors hired to supply them had to include their labour, transport, storage, packaging, security and admin fees. 

This means, at Makro’s prices, at least a third of the money earmarked for food aid goes to the contractors.

The parcel contains 15 items, including maize meal, flour, oil, pilchards, peanut butter, toothpaste and soap.

The provincial budget for the 2020/2021 financial year for Sassa for the provision of food parcels was R45,584,000.  

The funds have been divided across districts, with Nelson Mandela Bay allocated R5,925,920 — translating to about 72 food parcels per ward for the metro’s 60 wards.

Despite the effort to feed people, some spaza shops in the city have been looted — and residents are warning of more looting to come.

This comes as some councillors have been accused of stealing food parcels meant for the poor across SA, with the Bay EFF laying a complaint with police last week against ANC Ward 56 councillor Mambalu Mgcokoca.

She has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the allegation as “nonsense”.

Maqetuka said the food parcel contractors had their own costs that had to be considered. 

“The national office in Pretoria conducted market research to get the cost of the food items, allowing the chosen contractor to charge a reasonable price.”

He said the qualifying recipients were Sassa beneficiaries who had no money on their Sassa cards, along with people who were unable to secure a grant before last month.

“If a person had a job like washing cars, those people wouldn’t be able to go to work now.

“If you tendered an application for a social grant and you were awaiting the finalisation of your application, you qualify,” Maqetuka said.

According to Maqetuka, people needed to apply with their ID number among other criteria.

This helped Sassa identify people who had applied for social grants and were waiting for a response along with those who had already qualified.

Sassa would then contact these people and ask them specific questions, which he declined to provide.

“People can apply for food parcels using our toll-free number.

“We appeal to the community to identify people who need help and refer them to Sassa officials,” Maqetuka said.

He said reducing the initial provision for food parcels from R1,365 to R1,200  had allowed the department to buy more of the packages.

Meanwhile, desperate residents have warned of mass looting if food is not supplied.

Motherwell resident Nosipho Nazo warned that spaza shops would be looted before the end of the month in the township.

“We will start with the foreign national shops. Then we will go to town, which is a stone’s throw away,” she said.

“You don’t know how cruel a hungry person can be.”

In Missionvale, Ricardo Jafta said if the lockdown was extended they would have no choice but to loot.

“The scrap metal dealers are closed. We can’t sell metal.

“Things will get really bad soon. What’s happening in Cape Town will happen here,” Jafta said.

Further afield in Despatch, Vuyolwethu Gayiya said: “I can’t go to work to sustain myself.

“I am a hawker and we all need food parcels. People will start looting soon.”

In Lapland, an angry crowd of residents gathered earlier this week after contacting The Herald.

Maggie Jacobs, who lives in the Uitenhage informal settlement, said there were about 5,000 people there but only eight people had received a government food parcel.

“I can’t sleep because people come crying to me asking for help,” she said.

“I stopped the youth who wanted to loot spaza shops, but now they expect me to make a plan.”

Jacobs said of the residents who worked, most were hawkers or domestic workers.

“The government must come here to help.

“If they don’t, I will wash my hands of this and the looting will start.

“They will loot in town not because they are thieves but because they are starving,” she said.

Fellow Lapland resident Joyce Adams said:  “I feel dizzy right now. We are hungry.

“When I get dizzy, I know I need to eat something.

“I don’t care about this Covid-19. I am hungry and my grant money ended a long time ago.”

Evelyn Roman, who lives  with 14 other people, said the children cried every morning from hunger pains.

“This lockdown is like an execution.

“I would fully support it if people started looting if the government does not help,” she said defiantly.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Mvusi Sicwetsha, called on businesses to assist needy households, saying the department of social development would not be able to assist everyone.

“We will continue providing food assistance — the government is looking at the option of vouchers to families who need food and the distribution of food parcels will intensify.”

He cautioned residents against looting.

“Lawlessness will not be tolerated.

“Anyone that breaks the law will be arrested, charged and prosecuted.”

Sicwetsha said the department wanted to dish out food parcels to everyone in need but was faced with limited resources.

“This is why the premier has called on the private sector to support these initiatives to ensure a bigger impact.”

He said the department had called on residents to report any wrongdoing when it came to food parcels.

EFF regional secretary Hector Peter said the case against Mgcokoca was opened after three ward committee members  allegedly added their families’ names to the list of beneficiaries. 

He alleged that six of the names were of people related to ward committee members.

“A majority of people did not receive food parcels, yet this is happening. It is not fair,” he said.

Police spokesperson Captain Andre Beetge confirmed that a case had been opened on Friday.

Mgcokoca dismissed the allegations and said: “It is simply not true. It is nonsense.

“There is someone in my office gunning for me.

“He is spreading rumours.”

Mgcokoca said she had fallen out with Lubabalo Ludwabe, who works in her office.

“He wants to be a councillor and is playing dirty.”

Ludwabe, when contacted, said he was not involved.

“But I have heard these same rumours. I was not part of it.

“We belong to the same organisation.”

To register for a food parcel, contact 0800-601-011.

In the public interest, most of our coronavirus news isn’t behind our paywall, and is free to read. To support our mission of delivering award-winning, independent local news, subscribe from as little as R45 per month by clicking here

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.