NGO, govt in fight over peanut-butter sandwiches for the poor

Picture for illustration. Children can be seen qeueing in the Munsieville township for meals cooked daily by the Sonders family, 7 May 2020, Krugersdorp. Ingriedents and food parcels are sponsored by African Lighthouse and is then prepared and handed out to the Munsieville community. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Cradle of Hope has been providing children and adults in need with fresh peanut-butter sandwiches every day, but the social development department has stopped them.

A local charity is steeling itself for a court battle over peanut-butter sandwiches.

For the past three years, Krugersdorp-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Cradle of Hope has been providing children and adults in need with fresh peanut-butter sandwiches – and, when available, fruit – on a daily basis.

Last week, however, the department of social development apparently barred the organisation from serving prepared food during the national Covid-19 lockdown, effectively putting a stop to that.

It prompted a lawyer’s letter from Hurter Spies Inc, acting on behalf of Cradle of Hope, giving the department until Monday to reconsider its stance or risk court action.

The nine-page letter was addressed to Gauteng Premier David Makhura and the province’s acting MEC for social development, Panyaza Lesufi. The letter said the decision not to allow Cradle of Hope to continue distributing sandwiches over this period was based on guidelines and requirements issued last month.

“Apart from the fact that the statutory basis and legality of these guidelines and requirements are unclear and doubtful, they are also unreasonable and irrational in the extreme,” the letter read. “The guidelines and requirements directly frustrate the provision of effective and rapid relief in the form of food to people, including children, who are facing severe hunger.”

It said Cradle of Hope normally fed about 300 people a day, but this had increased to about 600 during the lockdown.

“This is indicative of the severe social and economic effect of the disaster and the increasing need of people for rapid and effective relief.

“Our client is the only welfare organisation in this particular area which provides food to the community on a daily basis,” the letter read. “The people in this community are dependent upon our client to receive what is normally their only meal for the day.”

The law firm’s Marjorie van Schalkwyk said yesterday the firm had not yet received a response to its letter. She and her team were now drafting court papers.

On Friday, the Democratic Alliance wrote to the South African Human Rights Council asking it to investigate. The party said not only were soup kitchens and other prepared, hot-meal schemes being stopped, but food parcel distribution by NGOs was being “severely restricted”.

“Although the official position is that independent feeding schemes may still operate, the rules under which such operations may take place are so difficult to comply with, they have had the effect of making operations impossible.

“The rules include stipulations that charities have to apply for a licence renewable every day they want to do food distribution.”

The SAHRC’s Buang Jones said yesterday he was planning on meeting with the management of Cradle of Hope “to establish the circumstances leading up to this decision and how this decision is adversely impacting the rights of the vulnerable”.

“We would like to play a mediatory role between Cradle of Hope and the department,” Jones said. “We think we can use our mandate, functions and power to establish what has happened and facilitate a settlement which will be mutually acceptable.”

In response to queries yesterday, departmental spokesperson Thabiso Hlongwane reiterated an earlier media release that the department did not intend to infringe on the generosity of NGOs, but that only food parcels should be distributed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

He said the department would never stop NGOs from feeding the needy and that all efforts to feed starving people were lauded and must continue, adding that the department would also never chase away people asking for assistance in applying for permits.

Hlongwane said the poor could be provided with bread and peanut butter, if need be, but that this could not be prepared.

Hlongwane added that thousands of NGOs have had to adhere to the same regulations, many of which handed out prepared meals before the pandemic, and have not had issues with the current requirements set out in food donor permits.

“No one can win a court case against regulations,” he said.

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