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Covid-19

In a hand-to-mouth life, food comes just in time for desperate residents

03 May 2020 - 00:00 By Sisanda Aluta Mbolekwa
Thoko Doyi and her granddaughter Thuli were among the first in line to inquire about African Children’s Feeding Scheme food parcels.
Thoko Doyi and her granddaughter Thuli were among the first in line to inquire about African Children’s Feeding Scheme food parcels.
Image: Alon Skuy

“I wake up in the morning, I make tea for Gogo, I watch TV and I eat. Sometimes.”

Thuli, 10, explained how she spends her days in lockdown at home in Dumbe Street, Tsakane, Ekurhuleni. She was walking with her grandmother, Thoko Doyi, 78, to a centre run by the African Children’s Feeding Scheme (ACFS) in the Gauteng township, in the hope of receiving a food parcel.

Usually the centre, operated by the charity established by Anglican bishop Trevor Huddleston in 1945, provides children with an afternoon meal and help with their homework.

But under the coronavirus lockdown the 10,400 children the charity supports in Gauteng have no meal at school and none after school either, with the grandmothers who mostly care for them left with empty fridges and emptier pockets.

Doyi was turned away — but only because the charity had decided to drop food parcels at people’s homes under police supervision instead of handing them out at the centre.

“It has become increasingly difficult to keep people orderly when handing out food and people are really desperate,” said ACFS executive director Bertha Magoge.

“At the beginning of the lockdown on March 26 it was fine, but now it’s almost impossible because people rush for the truck.”

Walking away hand in hand with Thuli, who dreams of being a nurse one day, Doyi, who has three other grandchildren and an unemployed daughter to feed, pointed out her house down the street to volunteers and pleaded with them to remember her.

The African Children’s Feeding Scheme goes door to door to deliver food parcels to people in need in Tsakane, near Brakpan in Gauteng.
The African Children’s Feeding Scheme goes door to door to deliver food parcels to people in need in Tsakane, near Brakpan in Gauteng.
Image: Alon Skuy

An hour later, the food parcels — maize meal, mageu, tinned beans, corned beef, rice, soap and toiletries — began to arrive.

Three little boys playing in the street outside Doyi’s house complained of being bored and missing school. Some children are watching educational programmes on TV, but there is little home-schooling in the neighbourhood aside from exercises in the department of basic education books the children are required to complete.

“We wake up every day and wash our faces, teeth and hands,” said Mvelo, 8.

“My mommy said for 20 seconds so we don’t catch corona,” chimed in Sihle, 6.

Amo, 9, reveals he has eaten little but maize porridge.

“We wake up and bath. Then we eat porridge. And go play games or watch TV. Then I go home and they warm up yesterday’s pap for lunch. Then I go and play until seven. And I eat pap again, then I sleep,” he said.

Mvelo and Sihle reported eating Weet-Bix and cornflakes for breakfast and bread for lunch.

Across the street, Alexis, 7, was tired of bread and tea, which she eats most meals. She desperately misses her teacher. Asked if she will give her teacher a big hug when she finally returns to school, she exclaimed: “But I can’t because of coronavirus!”

I miss studying, I miss learning, I miss my ma’am and I miss my friends
Tsakane resident Alexis

Walking down the road was Happy, 13, who said all she does these days is eat, wash dishes, watch TV, complete exercises in her school book and sleep.

“I miss studying, I miss learning, I miss my ma’am and I miss my friends,” she said. “I don’t want to go outside and play with my friends like other children because corona kills people. But I still miss school.”

A few houses down, Alexine Twala, 74, sat in her yard with her four grandchildren.

“Thank God for food parcels, my pension and the child grants. No-one in this house works. My children are unemployed and do not live with me. I live with my grandchildren who I support with social grants and my husband’s and my pension,” she said.

“My children live in shacks in a nearby township with their boyfriends. None of them work. At least now if the government increases the child grant, when they come and ask for money from me on pension day, I’ll have something left over for myself and their children,” she said wiping away tears with her scarf.

A short distance away, Silindile Sindano, who lives with her baby Lindelwa and a cousin, says the small washing and ironing jobs she used to survive on have all dried up and the family depend on Lindelwa’s child grant. “At least this food parcel will last us a week,” she said.


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