Sinegugu Nkosi, from the In Him Ministries Church in Vosloorus, handing out food parcels to residents of Somalia Park informal settlements during the lockdown on May 4 2020. Picture: SOWETAN/ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Sinegugu Nkosi, from the In Him Ministries Church in Vosloorus, handing out food parcels to residents of Somalia Park informal settlements during the lockdown on May 4 2020. Picture: SOWETAN/ANTONIO MUCHAVE

SA’s dedicated social science and humanities research agency has said the prevalence of hunger in the country under the Covid-19 lockdown has reached “disturbing” levels, with nearly 30% of the country without food.

A survey by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), conducted with the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change, confirms what is visible on the streets, in the long queues for food parcels and from reports of food trucks and supermarkets being looted.

The HSRC survey conducted from April 13 to 18 indicated a national average of hunger at 27.8%. While data from the second survey conducted from April 18 to 27 is still awaited, the indication was that there was an overall 5% increase in the national average of people experiencing hunger.

The survey on the frequency of hunger asked respondents whether they had gone to bed feeling hungry. It found that the highest prevalence of hunger (44%) was in worker hostels and student residences, followed by those in informal settlements (43.3%) and then backyard shacks or rooms (39.5%). Of the respondents living in rural areas, 30.9% of those interviewed said they had gone to bed hungry.

Of the people living in suburbs, 9.3% replied in the affirmative, according to HSRC executive Prof Narnia Bohler-Muller.

The results of the survey were presented to parliament’s standing committee on appropriations during a briefing on the 2020 Appropriations Bill by HSRC CEO Prof Crain Soudien and his team of professors.

Another study established a 72% level of popularity for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

MPs were warned of the danger of protests as a result of the abrupt withdrawal of the six-month provision of top-up grants as part of the government’s relief measures for Covid-19.

“The abrupt withdrawal at the end of six months, without alternate interventions, may have a potential destabilising impact on the economy, poverty and vulnerability levels and social stability,” one of the HSRC researchers said.

There was also the risk of student protests demanding the refund of tuition fees and residence payments, which universities would not be able to cope with.

They stressed the need for children to have school nutrition in a situation where their parents faced employment challenges. Another problem highlighted was the lack of access to chronic medication under the lockdown, especially by those in informal settlements who lived far from primary health-care centres.

Soudien said the major challenge facing the HSRC was the reduction of its grant from the government, which would have ripple effects on the council’s ability to meet its targets and objectives and fulfil its mandate.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za