GARDEN ROUTE DISTRICT NEWS - "Funny business" when it comes to the distribution of food parcels is not uncommon, especially when you involve politics.
Several political parties have blown the whistle on so-called corrupt activities regarding hunger prevention throughout the Southern Cape.
In the fourth week of lockdown, Western Cape local government MEC Anton Bredell issued protocol guidelines to municipalities on the role of councillors and the applicability of Covid-19 regulations. In the letter he "emphasises and stresses" that councillors must not be involved in the collection and distribution of food parcels, as this will be coordinated by municipalities and the relevant provincial and national departments, NGOs and the private sector.
According to Bredell his department has been receiving "constant complaints of councillors breaching the regulations applicable to the declaration of the National State of Disaster".
He also received requests from speakers of municipal councils and District Command Centres that clear protocol guidelines should be provided on the role of councillors during lockdown.
Councillors' actions leave bad taste
Chaos erupted on Sunday in Pacaltsdorp, George, when food parcels were distributed to 250 families by a local NPO, Siyabonga, connected to the National Development Agency. According to Siyabonga chair Hannelie Ceasar, she has since received threats.
"Some councillors pitched with members of their wards, promising them food. It was unbelievable. Others doubted my intentions, wanting to know who was behind this," said Ceasar.
"Only the people who have been serviced for the past seven years by Siyabonga received a parcel. We did not expect the parcels, it was sent by Ilitha Labantu, a provincial food distribution centre, linked to the Department of Social Development," she said.
Siyabonga operates their kitchen in premises behind the Hypersave in Pacaltsdorp. On Sunday police assistance was needed to drop the parcels at the homes of clients, since the crowd who gathered at the shopping centre got out of control. Ceasar said another NGO in Parkdene, operating under the same umbrella body, had the same trouble on Saturday.
In Bitou, Mayor Peter Lobese aired concerns last week Thursday, 23 April, over allegations that a municipal official had been involved in irregular activities during the delivery of food parcels in Plettenberg Bay over Easter.
According to EFF regional chairman Diswayne Maarman, the party called for a forensic investigation and lodged a case of theft and corruption at the Plettenberg Bay police. A video was also circulated on social media. Lobese said should there be any proof, disciplinary action would be taken.
Maarman also mentioned "double dipping" in Oudtshoorn, where he serves as councillor.
He said families use different names and ID numbers when they register for food parcels.
In Mossel Bay, Icosa's provincial leader, Dawid Kamfer, said he overheard a conversation where a woman, who is not an official, admits that she had been told to use a voters' roll she used at last year's election while canvassing.
Kamfer lodged a complaint at the Mossel Bay police last Tuesday, requesting an investigation into alleged corruption at the municipality.
Whereas most councillors welcome Bredell's protocol guidelines, others say it is almost impossible to steer clear of food distribution, since the need is so big. Ward councillors, especially, are inundated with requests for help.
DA Chief Whip in Bitou, Bill Nel, said they understand why Bredell made the request, but that it's impossible for councillors not to get involved. "What we do is to request councillors not to physically engage in the handing over of parcels, but to rather play an oversight role," said Nel.
"The ward councillors know where the need is. There are areas where it runs smoothly, but the higher the need, the greater the controversy."
Claudine Croutz, ANC Chief Whip in Knysna, said the party welcomes the idea. "It gives less opportunity for personal attacks against councillors. People use food parcels as a political tool to score brownie points. Councillors should not be part of distributions."
Chris Taute, ANC ward councillor in Riversdale, Hessequa, said he does not believe issuing food parcels is the answer, saying a kitchen is far more sustainable. In Ward 8, the poorest ward in Hessequa, they feed about 1 300 people daily from three kitchens in the ward.
"The virus is not going to ask which political party you belong to. If we truly care for our wards, we will have a strategy and plan in place. Next year we can talk politics again, but now Covid-19 is the enemy."
In George, DA Councillor Leon van Wyk said while dealing with the practicalities of the vulnerable, the lockdown regulations are also affecting the business sector and their employees.
"I have received numerous calls relating to financial relief that the municipality may be offering.
"There are many generous citizens providing assistance - one farmer donates a ton of vegetables every week."
FF Plus regional coordinator and George Councillor Gert van Niekerk said the perception that poverty occurs only in previously disadvantaged neighbourhoods is wrong. "Poverty does not have colour. The misery is everywhere. Entrepreneurs and middle income earners are hardest hit. Hairdressers, contractors, electricians... I see men crying in despair. An old tannie prayed from 03:00 in the morning, asking God for food. She has 15 mouths to feed. We need to see people as individuals. The poverty is heartbreaking. We've provided assistance to parents who have nothing else to give their children, other than a cup of cold, sweet tea."
Icosa's provincial leader, Dawid Kamfer, agrees that councillors should not get involved in the distribution of governmental food hampers, but wants to know who monitors it and what punitive measures are being taken. "We welcome the decision to curb corruption. However, the ruling party is closer to the administration and therefore it is easier for them to abuse their influence. In short, those who need food don't get it."
Senior communications officer Nickey le Roux said Mossel Bay Municipality welcomes Bredell's definitive guidelines as it "underscores the stated policy position of the Mossel Bay Council." She said Mayor Harry Levendal has repeatedly issued strict instructions in line with the guidelines.
"The Municipal Manager was mandated to issue permits to all the councillors to do essential work. Should it be evident that a councillor is abusing the permit, it may be withdrawn." She said allegations of impropriety were referred to Speaker Petru Terblance who referred some of the allegations for investigation.
Public relations officer Didi Budricks of Hessequa Municipality said they have received one complaint which is currently under investigation by the Speaker's office. "The municipality received food parcels from the Department of Social Development (DSD) or Sassa which have been distributed to those in need."
George municipal spokesperson Chantel Edwards-Klose said they can't comment on initiatives councillors may have undertaken in their own capacity. The municipality requests that any goods received are taken to the municipal drive-through donation centre.
"George Municipality's joint operations committee (Joc) initially requested the assistance of ward councillors to identify the most needy people in their wards, and their knowledge has been of great value."
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