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Dept takes complete control of food parcel distribution in NC

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This follows corruption allegations.

WHILE the government has made provision for food-assistance parcels for the most vulnerable, the process in the Northern Cape has been fraught with allegations of corruption, leaving many residents across the Province disgruntled and unhappy.

The Northern Cape Department of Social Development (DSD) said on Monday that due to the unhappiness about the provision of food parcels and accusations of nepotism and unbecoming behaviour levelled against councillors, the department had taken complete control of the distribution of food parcels. 

“Councillors in respective wards are invited to form part of the process and also to observe and to do oversight,” Northern Cape DSD spokesperson Gamiem Abrahams said.

He added that the department was satisfied that it was “in a position to feed every household in need and that proper assessments have been done to ensure that qualifying beneficiaries receive the parcels”.

Abrahams stated further that the department had also co-ordinated all donations and distribution to ensure that no double dipping takes place.

Following media enquiries on Monday, the DSD stated that on a district level the department, municipalities and Sassa had worked together to create a master beneficiary list/database to ensure eligibility.

Abrahams stated that households that were eligible were War On Poverty/R0 income households (households where there is no employment and no income) and beneficiary households that accessed DSD food provision services at the 142 nutrition centres. 

These are chronically food insecure households that experience hunger and have no access to one balanced meal per day; households with unemployed people living with HIV/Aids and other chronic diseases; households with malnourished individuals referred by clinics and hospitals; SRD (social relief of distress) beneficiary households; child-headed households and households with pupils benefiting from the school feeding scheme.

The other criteria is DSD food provision access points.

Abrahams added that district DSD officials would be responsible for the co-ordination, distribution, recording/reporting (non-financial data) and ensuring efficient and effective distribution to deserving beneficiaries. 

“Community development practitioners, social workers, social auxiliary workers and NPO members will form part of the distribution teams.”

He added that the DSD had conducted assessments to identify beneficiary households that are already accessing the department’s food provision services. 

“Beneficiary households are part of the Master List. DSD households will access food parcels through distribution by funded food provision centres/NPOs, social workers, social auxiliary workers, NPO members and community development practitioners (CDP) at project and municipal level.”

Abrahams added that the households could also access food provision services by contacting the DSD District Office or by contacting the local/area CDP or social worker.”

Sassa meanwhile stated that it applied the Social Assistance Act Regulations in the disbursement of the food parcels during the Covid-19 lockdown period. 

“Sassa will always use its SocPen system as a source of credentials for those to whom food parcels will be distributed.  In so doing, Sassa is trying to avert double dipping/benefiting while other vulnerable people do not have any means to put food on the table.”

According to Sassa, those looked at include: beneficiaries who were eligible recipients but were not paid their April 2020 grants due to various reasons, eg awaiting bank verification, etc;  those whose request was re-directed from the National Call Centre number 0800 60 10 11 to the Northern Cape province; those who turned 60 years old during the lockdown but because the Sassaoffices are closed, cannot apply for themselves but had children’s grants linked to them, ie Child Support, Care Dependency and Foster Child grants; disability grant applicants who were awaiting medical assessments when lockdown occurred; those awaiting medical appeals; rejected Disability grant cases who would have re-applied after 90 days (during December 2019 and January 2020); and those whose Temporary Disability grants lapsed and would have applied between February and April 2020.

According to Abrahams, the department has not received additional funding for the procurement of food relief for the distressed and funds were re-prioritised within its existing budget to procure food parcels. 

“An amount of R24 million was made available for this purpose. In addition to this, the Department of Education availed R6.5 million and Sassa has at its disposal R11 million to procure and distribute food parcels. In total R52 million has been availed to ensure ford security.”

Abrahams added that in the Northern Cape, like the rest of the country, there was currently a high demand for food relief for people in distress. 

“The announcement of a further two weeks to the lockdown added additional pressure to provide food to all vulnerable. The Province also has to deal with the vast distances to travel to provide relief to all the communities.”

He stated, however, that the department had started with the distribution of  the announced 47 700 food parcels for qualifying beneficiaries and it was confident that food relief would be supplied to all qualifying beneficiaries within the next few days.

“The 47 700 food parcels excludes the donations by business and civil society.”

Apart from the beneficiary and indigent list, the department also provides food to its service users at soup kitchens and community nutrition centres. In total it has 138 food provision points in the Province.

“The national government has provided support by funding the provision of food parcels to the 22 Community Nutrition Centres that form part of the Household Food Security and Nutrition Programme of the Department. Each CNDC will receive 250 food parcels,” he added. 

The statement from the Department of Social Development came amidst continued controversy and confusion in the Province regarding the distribution of food parcels, with some community members still desperately trying to find a spot on the distribution lists.

In some areas, communities were baying for the blood of their ward councillors, who they had accused of selling food parcels or allocating them to friends and family members.

President Cyril Ramaphosa released a statement on monday morning in regards to the distressing images of desperate people clamouring for food parcels at distribution centres. 

Community protests against food shortages have also erupted in provinces.

“We have also had to contend with allegations both disturbing and disgusting. A number of provinces have received reports that callous individuals, some of them allegedly government officials, are hoarding or selling food parcels earmarked for the needy and destitute, or diverting them to their friends and families. If there is found to be substance to these allegations we will deal with the individuals concerned harshly,” promised the president.

Meanwhile, the distribution of parcels in Phutanang was reportedly halted yesterday and will now only take place on Wednesday.

This followed the eruption of chaos in the area on Thursday last week when it was realised that only 700 parcels were allocated for the list of over 1 400 beneficiaries, after both the ward councillor and the PR councillor apparently drew up their own lists.

Communities have also accused the ANC of using the food parcels as a campaigning tool.

In Ward 7, beneficiaries returned home empty-handed after the food parcels did not arrive at the Presbyterian Church on Thursday morning.

In Pescodia, Roodepan police had to intervene, sending home more than 100 beneficiaries, most of whom were elderly, empty-handed on Thursday.

In Ward 8, rumours spread among residents that their food parcels had been delivered to a foreigner’s tuck shop.

Residents of Beaconsfield also raised their dissatisfaction around the distribution process on Monday morning. The Beaconsfield residents complained that people living in Diamond Park had received preference above them.

“We are also hungry. We are embarrassed because we were dispersed by police and accused of disobeying the lockdown rules after we were told to collect the food parcels,” stated the residents.

On Friday, some residents in Florianville stopped the Department of Social Development’s distribution car, raising concerns regarding the criteria used in the drawing up of the lists.

Residents felt that the most needy were skipped while some homes of drug abusers were getting food parcels. The residents alleged that the drug abusers would sell the food.