Julia Mbambo knew trouble was coming when she heard a knock at her door on Sunday night after 9pm. She saw the young mother who used her soup kitchen.
People know Mbambo well in Nelson Mandela Bay’s Gqeberha township. From her black bakkie, the friendly and straightforward woman waves to passers-by. Ask anyone about Julia and they will tell you that Mama Julia is an expert on everything.
A knock on the door at night wasn’t unusual for her.
She was shocked at what she saw next. The child, who was only five months old at the time, was all skin and bones. She was crying in pain because her tiny hands were tightly clenched. She tried to suck Mbambo’s fingers.
The baby’s mother said she could only afford packets of cooldrink powder and had been using that to keep the child alive. She could not access a child grant as she had no identity document, and as a result, her baby’s birth was not registered.
Julia raced to borrow money and bought baby formula from a nearby spaza store. The child was able to drink a bit, much to her relief.
The child was admitted to hospital the next day and is currently being treated at Dora Nginza Hospital, Nelson Mandela Bay.
“I said to the mom, she must let me help her with the baby. She herself was weak and getting thinner every day,” Mbambo said. “She was only eating when she came here to us. I knew she had to take her medicine so I said she must come to my house over the weekend to get something to eat.”
Mbambo has been managing a soup kitchen with her volunteers since 2005. It is becoming busier by the day.
She explained that more than 30 young mothers have small children and need assistance accessing food.
Malnutrition cases are on the rise
Many experts warned about a rising number of malnutrition cases during the 2020 lockdown. Despite the outrage from the government, Professor Glenda Gray was supported by many experts who said that the lockdown had only aggravated an already existing problem. Food insecurity is a major problem South Africa
Gray said Tuesday that it was not the mothers’ fault, and that infants born to malnourished mothers are at high risk of developing malnutrition due to a lack of resources.
Three weeks ago Dr Imtiaz Sooliman (the founder of the humanitarian organization Gift of the Givers) stated that it had become a major humanitarian organisation in the Eastern Cape. Normal to starve.
The latest Statistics In South Africa, 238 children died from moderate acute malnutrition in public hospitals. 771 were severely malnourished. The figures were released to Parliament in May. Twenty children died from mild malnutrition in the Eastern Cape and 127 from severe acute malnutrition. This is more that 10 deaths per month.
The Eastern Cape Department of Social Development refuses to answer questions regarding its strategy to combat hunger. Mzukisi Solomon, the spokesperson for the department refuses to answer questions regarding how many food parcels it has distributed since June.
The June provincial legislature Hear Siphokazi Mani Luthi, former MEC said that despite the fact that more than 4,000 families were eligible for urgent food assistance, only 141 food parcels had ever been distributed. In the Buffalo City metro area (East London), no food was distributed.
Only one parcel of food was delivered to the entire Chris Hani area.
Only three families in the sprawling OR Tambo district — around Mthatha and including Butterworth, where a number of children had died of severe acute malnutrition — each received a single food parcel. Only 32 families in Nelson Mandela Bay received food parcels. The Alfred Nzo District, which is a deep rural area with 105 parcels distributed within the Mbizana Local Municipality, received the majority of food parcels.
Prior to that, the department had also failed distribution of food parcels and blamed it on an inept contractor.
Mani-Lusithi was transferred to the Department of Human Settlements during August. Bukiwe Fanta, spokesperson for the new MEC promised quick answers to any questions regarding the crisis.
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Emergency pantries run low
Nelson Mandela Bay’s poor residents are now turning to non-governmental organizations for help. However, even their emergency pantries are at a halt.
“We have food for three weeks of the month in the soup kitchen, and the fourth week I pray,” said Glenda Brunette, who runs the organisation supporting Mbombo’s soup kitchen. “Even the children who get something at school are still hungry, so they come to Julia’s for some food again.”
Linda van Oudheusden, a Missionvale Care Centre worker, said that they often buy bulk but are running out of supplies. “Our food bill will go up by 21% when we do our next big shop,” she said. “For some items like pilchards, it will be more.” The centre feeds hundreds of elderly people and children every day.
Van Oudheusden claimed that donations have not increased at an equal rate, leaving them with hard decisions.
“Our school principal is also reporting that because so many children’s parents have lost their jobs, the children are getting hungrier and hungrier and many are coming back to the kitchen in the middle of the day to ask if there isn’t a little more food for them.”
Earl Piet, who runs a feeding scheme in Nelson Mandela Bay’s Northern Areas, said their resources were completely depleted.
“The cupboard is bare. In the last few months we have received many requests for our assistance. It is sad for us when we can’t help.”
Coralie Peo, from the Red Cross, stated that they have enough resources to feed 50-80 people three times per week in Kwazakhele.
Some organizations claimed that they had 100 families waiting to receive food, as they were unable to provide enough for everyone.
In July, the minister of social development, Lindiwe Zulu, said in a response to a written question in Parliament that child malnutrition and hunger in South Africa had reached “crisis levels”.
She summarized the key factors that lead to food insecurity and vulnerability: economic decline and unemployment; the Covid-19 pandemic, subsequent lockdowns; food price inflation; climate change; and the environmental impact.
She stated that the Constitution mandates the department to provide social assistance for those who are unable or unwilling to support themselves or their dependents.
Zulu stated that the best short-term solution to child malnutrition, hunger and deaths was the provision of Child Support and the Social Relief of Distress grants and food packages to the families affected.
She stated that the department had accepted the need to increase the Child Support Grant’s value to at least the level of food poverty. She stated that a draft of a maternal support policy was still being developed and is not ready to be submitted to Parliament.
Professor Charles Mutengwa of the University of Fort Hare stated in his submission that nearly 900,000 people were facing food insecurity during hearings by the South African Human Rights Commission on malnutrition.
Maureen Andreka from the Algoa Bay Council for the Aged said she doesn’t know how pensioners are coping when they only receive the SA Social Security Agency grant. She said they ran a programme where people can “adopt” an elderly person, but a few months ago a number of benefactors had indicated that they could no longer help.
“It was tough to tell their residents that a food parcel — valued at about R1,000 — was not coming their way any longer. How can you justifiably ask for a tin coffee worth more than R100? That is why we are removing it from our parcels. Also, rental defaults have risen. Residents have lost their extra income-earning ability during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
She stated that the high cost of petrol was a major problem for seniors.
“We had a resident diagnosed with cancer last month but he says he can’t afford the transport cost to go to hospital for the treatments.”
Andreka explained that elderly homes are asking one another to share food, as some are struggling to feed their residents. DM/MC
- We have decided not to publish any image of the baby at the moment.