subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now
Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

One of the largest food banks in Johannesburg was forced to close its doors this week due to delays in funding from Gauteng’s department of social development.

The food bank, run by the Believers Care Society, distributes about 5,000 parcels a month. Several other food banks in Gauteng are also on the verge of closure due to funding delays. This comes after months of insufficient stock to distribute food parcels to beneficiaries.

The department’s spokesperson, Themba Gadebe, told GroundUp that Believers Care Society and other food banks were “under investigation”. He provided no details of what allegations the food banks faced. Believers Care Society declined to comment.

According to a senior department official with close knowledge of the situation, there are about 1,800 food parcels ready for distribution and locked in the food bank’s building. Food banks are still receiving parcels from suppliers contracted by the department, but have not received funds to distribute them.

The official said that Believers Care Society defaulted on its rent and the landlord confiscated the keys. GroundUp visited the food bank in Booysens, Johannesburg, on Monday and found the doors locked.

A security guard at the premises said the food bank was still open on Friday. About 20 people worked at the facility, the security guard said. Believers Care Society declined to comment on this.

Between them, the food banks feed thousands of Gauteng families. . The department’s target is to reach 100,000 households a year through its food security programme. The food banks depend on funding from the provincial department of social development, and without it cannot pay rent or salaries.

But GroundUp understands that funds meant for operational expenses, including rent and salaries, have not been paid since the start of the financial year. This, according to a source, was caused by a delay in the signing of service level agreements with the organisations running the food banks.

According to written answers by social development MEC Mbali Hlophe to questions posed by the DA’s Refiloe Nt'sekhe on March 26, spending on the department’s food relief programmes amounted to R185.7-million by February 25. This included R17.8-million on food banks and R74-million on food parcels meant for households and HIV clinics.

GroundUp has seen emails between senior managers at the department, including former head Matilda Gasela. The communication shows that by March 31, no decision had been taken on which food banks would be funded for the 2024/25 financial year.

A leaked internal memo from April 17 explains some of the challenges that the programme has faced. Food banks were without food for the “most part of 2023/24” due to the expiry of the tender to supply parcels, according to the memo from acting deputy director-general Bongani Ngomane.

Ngomane was appointed acting head of department after Gasela left at the end of April.

In none of the internal communications seen by GroundUp is it mentioned that Believers Care Society is under investigation.

The memo from April 17 states that new suppliers were appointed in February and had been delivering food parcels to the food banks. But at the food banks in Johannesburg and West Rand, suppliers’ deliveries were incomplete and were in low quantities, according to the memo.

While the food parcels from the suppliers were being delivered, there was no payment from the department to the food banks to distribute them.

The memo proposes that pending the outcome of the 2024/25 funding allocations, month-to-month contracts are to be signed with food banks until May. Each food bank would get about R600,000 for April and May, according to the memo.

The future of the food banks’ funding beyond May is still uncertain.

According to GroundUp’s source, some of the food banks have signed the month-to-month contracts, but there are still issues with processing payments. Believers Care Society’s food bank has not been given a contract.

Gauteng MEC for finance Jacob Mamabolo told eNCA in April that the food parcel tender is under investigation.

In the meantime, thousands of families are going hungry while their food parcels at these food banks stand ready for distribution.


subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.