President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Gallo Images /Jeffrey Abrahams
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Gallo Images /Jeffrey Abrahams

I write to express my concern about hunger. Of course, this isn’t new: hunger was a national and global challenge long before Covid-19 pounced on the world. That’s why global action was mobilised under the millennium development goals, and why hunger is a core focus of the UN’s sustainable development goals and our own national development plan. But researchers now warn us daily that there is an explosion of hunger.

You will agree that the worsening of hunger is one of the consequences of the lockdowns governments around the world imposed to save us from an unbridled spread of Covid.

In April, the Social Justice Think Tank, convened by the social justice chair at Stellenbosch University, sent the government a policy brief on social justice and mental health in the face of the pandemic.

In it we observed that the right to food is enshrined in the constitution, which notes that "everyone has the right to sufficient food and water" and emphasises that "the state must formulate reasonable legislative efforts and take other measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of these rights".

The right to food requires that food is available, accessible and adequate for everyone, without discrimination. It is important, then, that the food security elements of the government’s social relief and economic support package expeditiously reach every person in SA’s 4,392 wards — preferably simultaneously, to prevent hunger and anger which, left unattended, will undermine human development, social cohesion and the rule of law.

The government and NGOs have helped immensely with food and food vouchers during the lockdown, and for this credit must be given.

We also applaud the government for the temporary R350 grant for the destitute, and for responding positively to calls to extend it for a few more months while a permanent solution to post-Covid economic inclusion is sought.

Trust and justice hold together the fabric of society

This, as we say in Zulu, will keep the cat away from the fireplace.

However, data shows that many have fallen through the cracks.

This was recently pointed out to social development minister Lindiwe Zulu during an interview with eNCA’s Karima Brown. Zulu’s response was troubling, in that she emphasised that those who complied with the rules were helped.

You must surely agree that the rules should serve the people, not the other way around.

You must further surely agree that it is the government’s duty to meet people where they are. This, at least, was my understanding as public protector — hence institutional efforts were made to pitch service at the level of the least sophisticated and most disadvantaged.

History teaches us that we ignore hunger, and the anger that goes with it, at our peril.

A turn to trust

Earlier, we recommended urgent "poverty mapping to foster demand-driven as opposed to supply-driven service delivery … [to] limit corruption, improve responsiveness, advance equality and reduce the public trust deficit".

Ours is a constitution that deliberately promises social justice. This is consolidated in the promise of equal enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms, which include "access to sufficient food"; the state is charged to ensure the right becomes reality.

But trust here is central: it is the foundation of democracy and all entrusted power. Trust and justice hold together the fabric of society that undergirds sustainable democracy and the rule of law. Without these, democracy is doomed.

Promising and not delivering help to distressed families and individuals constitutes a breach of trust.

That the government has complied with its own rules is not enough.

So I write to urge you, Mr President, to do something to ensure no-one is hungry due to the closure of businesses and loss of jobs during the lockdown and its aftermath. It is our duty — our constitutional responsibility and a guarantee of sustainable democracy and peace.

  • Madonsela is the Law Trust Chair in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University



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