Food Security: MECs & SASSA Western Cape briefings

Adhoc Committee on Covid-19 (WCPP)

24 April 2020
Chairperson: Ms M Wenger
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Meeting Summary

VIDEO: Ad Hoc Committee on Covid-19, 24 April 2020, 14:00

The Ad-Hoc Standing Committee on COVID-19 was briefed by the Departments of Agriculture and Social Development, and by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), on their responses to the humanitarian crisis created by the spread of the pandemic throughout the Western Cape.

The Department of Agriculture focused on household food security, and the economic impact of the lockdown on the farming community, with particular reference to imports and exports. It highlighted the huge gap in the percentage of income spent by poor and wealthy communities on essential groceries, painting a picture that reflected the inequality that existed throughout the country. The effect of COVID-19 went beyond just the health sector, as the economic impact had resulted in job losses and the inability to pay for food. To assist the agricultural sector, the Department of Agriculture would be procuring protective face masks for approximately 100 000 farm workers, providing 1 000 litres of hand sanitisers, and business support packages.

Members expressed gratitude that the Department of Agriculture had been classified as an essential service, and wanted to know if the Department felt that they had adequately protected their employees from possible infection. They asked if they would be assisting people with informal trading stores to gain access to licences, as this had become an important issue that needed to be dealt with.

The Department of Social Development (DSD) reflected on how the last five weeks had been turbulent, as they had found themselves in the eye of the storm. The loss of household income during the lockdown for thousands of households which normally subsisted on a week-to-week income had greatly extended the need for food relief beyond the existing 1.6 million SASSA beneficiaries in the province, and beyond SASSA’s existing budget’s capacity to cover on its own. The provincial cabinet had therefore directed that the province assist with emergency food relief, prioritising, but not limited to, those who were currently not receiving any other form of state assistance. It provided details of its extensive emergency food provision plans, stating that to date the DSD had spent R30 million on the COVID -19 food relief interventions for 50 000 food parcels and hot food at feeding sites. A further R16 million had been allocated by the Department of Local Government to non-metro municipalities, which had also allocated R6.7 million from their own funds towards food relief.

SASSA in the Western Cape pointed out that although the administration of social grants was a non- essential service, the payment of the grants was. Despite offices being closed during the lockdown, more than 200 staff members had volunteered to assist with the processing of social relief of distress (SRD) applications and the distribution of the food parcels. SASSA had received no additional funds for the Covid-19 related food parcels, and was using the annual SRD allocation for this purpose.

Members wanted to know what was being done by the DSD to prevent the politicisation of food parcel distribution, as there was increasing evidence that this had been occurring daily. They raised concern about conditions in the Department’s shelters, describing them as prison-like in some facilities. One Member was so emotionally upset by what he described as the prayers of the hungry, once meant for God, being redirected to councillors who wielded the power within the vulnerable communities, that he asked to be excused from the meeting.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Committee and delegation to the virtual meeting. An apology had been received by Mr D America (DA), and Mr R Mackenzie (DA) would be acting on his behalf. The procedure of the meeting was explained to Members: the microphones of Members were muted, the chat bar was to be used for raising points of order, each party would be given three minutes for questions, and then another three minutes for follow-ups.

The order of the presentations would be as follows:

  1. The Provincial Minister of Agriculture and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture.

  2. The Provincial Minister of Social Development and the Western Cape Department of Social Development.

  3. The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) Western Cape.

A good opportunity to participate would be afforded to each and every political party, who would each receive three minutes to present their thoughts or questions in order to ensure fair electoral support and engagement.

Department of Agriculture

Dr Ivan Meyer, Provincial Minister of Agriculture, said that the Department of Agriculture had done a report on the impact of COVID-19 on agriculture and food in the Western Cape, but clarified that the report was still a work in progress. Any further input from the Committee would be welcomed, as he believed that his Department alone did not have the sole wisdom regarding the magnitude and depth of the COVID-19 problem.

The Department’s introduction dealt with issues of household food security – adequate availability, accessibility (physical, social and economic), and the quality and safety of food, including the stability of food supply.

At this time, the poor were the most vulnerable. The inequality gap between the wealthy and poor was beyond disturbing. The poor spent an astonishing 40% of their household income on food, while the wealthy spend a mere 5%. It needed to be remembered that the poor were not exempt from having dietary requirements, just like everyone else.

COVID-19 Disruptors

Lockdown leading to job losses:

  • Losing jobs means losing the ability to purchase food.

  • Those without contracts were most vulnerable.

Weakening exchange rate:

  • Better prices for exports.

  • Production inputs and imported food more expensive.

Slowdown in South Africa’s economy:

  • More unemployment and fewer people with the ability to buy food.

Slowdown in the global economy:

  • Changes in demand patterns abroad.

  • Drop in oil price - some African markets unattractive for SA products.

Changing consumer patterns:

  • Increased demand in fresh fruit and vegetables.

Government failure:

  • If key units of government contract Covid-19 -- breakdown in important certification and other essential services.

South African lockdown:

  • Length, extent of lockdown and nature of regulations.

  • Influence on production capacity and consumer spending.

Emerging from the lockdown:

  • Sequencing and nature of South Africa’s emergence, will influence production and consumer spending.

Inconsistent application of lockdown regulations:

  • Leads to uncertainty.

  • May be counter-productive (e.g. closing supermarkets in vulnerable areas).

Lockdown abroad:

  • The length and sequencing of lockdowns between various countries will influence demand and supply patterns.

COVID-19 Impact

Short-term shortage of goods on domestic markets:

  • Domestic supply of food still intact.

  • More a result of “panic buying” than actual shortages.

  • Exception – high-value imported products.

Long-term shortage of goods on domestic markets:

  • Weakening exchange rate increasing the price of imported products and reducing the availability of essential farming inputs, which may have impact on next season’s harvest.

Food insecurity in vulnerable communities:

  • Concern for job losses (and inability to pay for food), rather than availability.

  • Direct intervention (food parcels) is important. but it should be supplemented by a food voucher or coupon system.

Wasting of fresh produce:

  • No significant cases had been observed where fresh produce had gone to waste.

  • There were calls for donations of “surplus food” – but a farm was a business, and there were surpluses only when markets (formal, informal and social) fail.

Loss of market share abroad:

  • Wine and cut-flowers at risk.

Shortage of farming inputs:

  • Major impact on medium to long-term availability of food.

  • Anecdotal evidence of shortages of chemicals and equipment developing.

Failing farms:

  • The major impact when primary and secondary production facilities fail was financial ruin, or certain technical issues.

  • Financial issues were currently the most critical.

Status of COVID-19 impact, and actions required

There was a short-term shortage of food on domestic markets. This action required monitoring the availability of food in rural areas, especially in remote communities. There was also a long-term shortage of goods on domestic markets – this action required monitoring the import of farming inputs, as well as food price inflation of imported products.

Food insecurity affected the vulnerable communities – the action still required providing direct and indirect assistance to the most vulnerable households and developing a food voucher/coupon system.

As additional Interventions, the Western Cape Department of Agriculture would be:

  • Procuring protective face masks for approximately 100 000 agricultural workers

  • Providing 1 000 litres of hand sanitisers for the staff in all its offices, including the seven agricultural research farms in the Western Cape.

  • Sharing information on small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and business support packages with its rural communities.

  • Conducting weekly virtual meetings with stakeholders to check on issues within the sector, which would help the Department to escalate issues to the national level where necessary.

  • Regularly interacting with mayors regarding their requests from the agri-sector.

Face mask intervention

A total of 100 000 face masks were purchased by the WCDoA for sponsorship to farmers in the Western Cape. A thousand boxes were received consisting of 100 face mask per box. Instructions on how to use and take care of a face mask were included in the boxes in all three languages of the Western Cape.

The first round of distribution of face masks took place on 16 April, and went to 68 000Agri Western Cape/commercial farms and 32 000 smallholder farmers. The total number of farmers in the Western Cape was 6 501 commercial farmers and 9 400 small-scale/communal farmers. Masks were also dropped off at co-operatives, where farmers signed for and collected masks.

In the past week, Minister Meyer had visited the De Fynne Nursery and Distell, and handed out the first of the 100 000 cloth masks to agri workers. He had also visited where hand sanitiser was being made for communities. The Department was partnering with Distell for the distribution of the alcohol sanitisers. The Western Cape Government had shared an article on mental health and gender-based violence during lockdown to all staff members in order to promote the maintenance of good mental health during lockdown.


Mr A van der Westhuizen (DA) said that fortunately agriculture was classified as an essential service, and was generally allowed to continue with normal activities very quickly – a little too fast for his liking, when considering the potential risk to farm workers in terms of infection. He wanted to know whether the Department was satisfied that its employees had been adequately protected from the risk of infection during the “storm,” and if they could expand on the role which it had played in the distribution of equipment.

He was wondering whether a report on agriculture could assess whether or not the decline in tourism would have an impact on the ability of farmers to produce food in the future. From a food security point of view, more information was sought around the challenge of getting food to the vulnerable, and the possibility of the coupon solution.

Mr C Dugmore (ANC) said the Department of Agriculture had spoken about helping communities grow food, but when assessing the time factor, he would have thought that there would have been a clear focus on what communities and individuals could use to start growing food by creating flower beds. Secondly, he sought clarity regarding the general availability and accessibility of seeds, specifically highlighting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). He asked what specific measures of support the Department of Agriculture could offer, along with what view it took regarding the debate on cash transfers as opposed to vouchers. Lastly, he wanted to know whether the Department had reached a level of comfort in ensuring that all farm workers in the Western Cape had sufficient protective gear, particularly in Witzenberg and the Breede Valley, which had been identified as COVID-19 hotspot areas.

Mr M Xego (EFF) stated that his question was related to the current cases that been cropping up recently. He said that farm workers were being treated with suspicion of having been infected with COVID-19, which affected them mentally as well. He wanted to know what the Department had been doing to ensure not only a proper mental health framework, but also that the correct treatment was being administered in a dignified manner.

Mr B Herron (GOOD) asserted that the food security crisis could end up being as catastrophic as the health crisis itself if access to food was not handled correctly. The Department had been correct in stating that there was inadequate access to supermarkets for the lower income quintiles, so poor communities had less access to supermarket shopping, and that alone made informal trading exceptionally important. He sought clarity regarding the impact of the lockdown on small-scale farming and what the Department had done to address that issue. He wanted to know whether or not the Department made any interventions to assist fresh food markets to trade under a strictly controlled hygienic environment, just as supermarkets were required to do. The regulations surrounding informal trading had not only been amended on 2 April, but had also been implemented chaotically and in some cases cruelly. Despite the fact that it had been three weeks since the amendment, informal traders were still unable to access permits from municipalities.

Mr F Christians (ACDP) wanted to know if the Department would be assisting those people with informal trading stores access to licences, emphasising that it was an important problem which needed to be addressed.

Mr P Marais (FF+) asked if it would be possible to have a list drawn up of all the good crops, especially fruits, that had lost their overseas export markets, and suggested that in conjunction with the Department, those farmers could be approached to supply some of the crops needed by schools and for the most vulnerable – it would be killing two birds with one stone. The issue of walking needed to be discussed in relation to the vulnerable communities, as there were people who had no taxi fare to get food from supermarkets. He wanted to know if it would not be possible to get food at base prices to the most vulnerable communities. He added that he was thankful to the Chairperson for allowing time allocations to each party, as it allowed the meeting to run smoothly – it was a huge improvement.

Department’s response

Dr Meyer explained that regarding the ban on livestock auctions, the specific issue was that the police and security forces had been stopping farmers from getting to livestock auctions. He emphasised that the police and security forces had followed incorrect processes, as the Department had been declared as the central service in terms of agricultural production, distribution and selling of products. He proposed that the restriction of numbers and social distancing be implemented, instead of fully banning.

Regarding trade, he said the current trade with the African continent was still being done, and the plan would be to try and increase it. He explained that the United States of America and Europe, in particular, had issued stricter lockdown policies, and he expected that they would eventually face a shortage. South Africa desperately needed an export market for agricultural products, and they were currently working on establishing export logistics, particularly for the African continent.

He said that Mr Christians and Mr Marais had been absolutely correct in their statements. The Department realised that while South Africa had been in a lockdown for a month, the long-term situation was unknown, and long-term food security would be needed as COVID-19 would have massive implications and result in permanent behavioral change. He supported the idea of massively rolling out not just community gardens, but home-based gardens as well, to ensure that food security could become more stable. He added that the Cabinet had been briefed regarding the increase in DOVID-19 incidences, particularly within the Witzenberg and Breede Valley areas, and these would be investigated.

Dr Mogale Sebopetsa, Chief Director: Farmer Support and Development, WCDoA, said that communications were sent out on a weekly basis to alert the agriculture sector of the issues, social distancing and all health protocols surrounding COVID-19. Weekly engagements and checking in with the industry were done to pick up on any issues faced and to see the extent to which assistance could be offered to resolve any issues. They had developed a document that translated or simplified all the regulations to the extent that it became easier for farmers and active workers to be able to respond to their issues.

Ms Joyene Isaacs, Head of Department, WCDoA, said that currently they were dealing with a very complex system, and that any changes to the system had a lot of other unintended consequences. The rules and regulations which were controlled at the national level needed to be interpreted. Any service needed for the production of food would include seeds. Normally one would be able to buy seeds from the agri-businesses that operated, or from a supermarket, but she was not entirely sure whether the supermarkets were prevented from selling seeds. She added that any seed company that wished to distribute GMO seeds had to be registered.

Mr Darryl Jacobs, Deputy Director General, WCDoA, said that one could never do too much, but the Department was trying to do as much as they could with their available resources. Just under 36 000 face masks had been donated to the Witzenberg hot spots, along with a detailed list of every farm, facility and packer that received a face mask. In addition to that, the winelands district had received a donation of 150 litres of hand sanitisers. He assured the Committee that they were trying to make a meaning contribution to improving the healthcare of farm workers.

The Department also worked closely with the Department of Employment and Labour, as labour inspectors had gone to inspect farms to assess whether or not they were fully compliant and complied with the disaster management regulations in terms of social distancing etc. The biggest challenge that the Department faced was the lack of available face masks within the province, but he believed that the ramping up of the textile industry in the short to medium-term would address that shortage. The issue of permits was being dealt with as part of the economic cluster engagement, which was chaired by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism. He held a seat on that committee, and such issues were dealt with on a daily basis through the economic cluster.

He said that weekly engagements with all stakeholders were held in order to understand what was happening in the industry, and to identify ways to get rid of the blockages and deal with areas of concern.

Follow-up questions

Mr Van der Westhuizen wanted to know why the cargo space for exporting flowers and other agricultural products was not being addressed, as it seemed to him that no exporting would result in significant job losses. He also knew that the Western Cape’s food industry made use of seasonal workers and with the season soon coming to an end, he wanted to know what would happen to those thousands of workers who were hoping to return to their provincial homes.

Mr Dugmore wanted to know, if someone wanted to get non-GMO seeds, where could they get them. There was a report that restaurants were going to open and prepare food, but it would have to be distributed, and sit downs not allowed. He wanted to know if the Agriculture Department knew about the initiative.

Mr Herron wanted to know what the impact on small-scale farmers was, given the closure of many fresh food markets.

Mr Christians asked what the Department was doing to secure farmers and farm workers from the continuous attacks on farms.

Mr Marais said that COVID-19 created a unique opportunity to make huge policy adjustments, with little political fallout, to address the issue of food shortages and make people less vulnerable. He asked if not only food gardens, but also chicken farming, could be established in communities.

Department’s response

Dr Meyer said he did not like the term ‘seasonal workers,’ as they were ‘essential workers’ after all. The Western Cape had come to the end of the harvesting season and many of the workers wished to return home to their families. They wanted to go home to support their families, and usually became subsistence farmers once home. He had written a letter to the national Minister in that regard, as he wanted them to return to their families. However, he wanted all workers to be properly screened and tested before returning home. Right now, nothing was definite, and they would be dealing with the matter once they received feedback from the Minister.

He said that the crisis presented them with a unique opportunity on how to radically rethink agriculture. They were already working on a post COVID-19 plan for the Western Capes agricultural sector.

Dr Sebopetsa explained that because farm workers were essential workers, they were allowed to move from the Western Cape to their respective home provinces. This was according to a legal opinion he had received.

He said that if someone wanted to establish a food garden for which they needed seeds, the Department would be able to provide seeds and seedlings and some compost when necessary, even if they were working from home. The opportunity provided them a platform to ensure that everyone was able to produce their own food.

Export to world markets was a big issue, because South Africa was not the only producing country, and if they lost that shelf space, it would be difficult to reclaim. Regarding the impact on small-scale farmer markets, he was of the view that the regulations were not a challenge for the farmers, as they were able to sell ,and permits had been issued directly to them.

The Chairperson thanked the Provincial Minister of Agriculture, along with the Department of Agriculture for their presentation and contribution to the meeting.

Department of Social Development

Ms Sharna Fernandez, Provincial Minister of Social Development, said the last five weeks had been very turbulent, as the Department of Social Development (DSD) had found itself in the eye of the storm. There was a humanitarian work stream, of which social relief food was a subset, so she would be working alongside Dr Meyer, the Provincial Minister of Agriculture. Regarding the speculation and allegations made against the Department, she expressed the view of both herself and the Department that food relief needed to apolitical and non-partisan, and should not discriminate against anyone.

The food strategy was to supplement existing protocols that were in place, as those protocols were not involved in the business of food delivery. However, they created a safety net, which created quite a bit of noise.

She said the lockdown had resulted in an immediate loss of income for a large proportion of workers not performing essential services, especially for those in the informal and semi-formal sectors. In terms of Chapter 3 of the Social Assistance Act, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) was responsible for the social relief of distress. However, the loss of household income during the lockdown for thousands of households which normally subsisted on a week-to-week income greatly extended the need for food relief beyond the existing 1.6 million SASSA beneficiaries in the province, and beyond SASSA’s existing budgets and capacity to cover on its own. The provincial cabinet had therefore directed that the province assist with emergency food relief, prioritising, but not limited to, those who were currently not receiving any other form of state assistance.

Overview of food relief being provided

The allocation of funds for the emergency food provision plan included:

  • R20 million to distribute 50 000 food parcels, each of which would support a family of four for one month. The WCDSD would allocate these funds to selected non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who would prepare and distribute the food parcels.

  • R5 million to supplement existing food relief initiatives where gaps were identified. This would be split between food parcels and cooked food. Funds had been reprioritised in the DSD baseline.

  • R18 million to the Department of Education to initiate a special school feeding programme from 8 April to 20 April, which would target 485 000 existing school feeding scheme beneficiaries, with one takeaway meal a day at approximately 1 000 schools. Funds had been allocated as additional funds by Treasury to the WCED vote.

  • R10 million to increase the number of beneficiaries receiving food at existing DSD feeding schemes, to 6 520 people.

  • To date, the DSD had spent R30 million on the COVID -19 food relief interventions for 50 000 food parcels and hot food at feeding sites. The WCED has also allocated the last of its additional funding during this week.

  • A further R16 million had been allocated by the Department of Local Government to non-metro municipalities, which had also allocated R6.7 million from their own funds towards food relief.

Other food relief initiatives being implemented (not provincially funded):

  • SASSA social relief of distress for applications received through the national call centre. Parcel deliveries had commenced since 14 April.

  • There was a network of around 6 000 NGO feeding schemes, most of which were not funded by the state.

  • SASSA continued to pay grants to a total of 1.6 million people in the province on a monthly basis.

  • Through the Lotto fund, a total of R1.4m had been approved for five NGOs.

  • The Solidarity Fund had announced they would be funding 250 000 food parcels for distribution across the country. Two NGOs in the Western Cape would be funded to provide 14 800 parcels in the Western Cape.

Community Based Feeding Schemes:

  • 1 792 additional beneficiaries were being provided with food relief in the form of a hot meals, over and above about 5 000 beneficiaries who normally accessed these sites.

  • 4 859 food parcels had been delivered to existing targeted feeding beneficiaries.

  • A further 5 433 beneficiaries at 20 community nutrition and development centres (CNDCs) across the region had also been sustained with nutritional support

Therefore, through 92 community-based feeding sites (including the 20 CNDCs), 12 084 vulnerable people were provided with food relief on a daily basis during the lockdown.

Criteria for community-based food provision and food parcels:

  • Those households that were affected by COVID-19 infections in the following instances:

  1. A member(s) of the family who tested positive for the virus and were in quarantine in their home.

  2. A household where a member of the family who tested positive for the virus and who had insufficient means to sustain themselves during the lockdown period.

  3. A person who was on medication or who suffered from a chronic illness and had insufficient means to sustain themselves, and had been assessed and referred by a local clinic or registered health practitioner.

  4. A person and her/his household who had insufficient means to sustain her/himself during the lockdown period, and who had been assessed and referred by a registered humanitarian relief agency, the DSD, a registered non-profit organisation (NPO), or a municipal manager. In this instance, the elderly, child-headed households and grant-awaiting beneficiaries would be prioritised.

  • DSD social workers conduct telephonic assessments, and approved households had a parcel delivered to their door.

A list of all 92 community-based feeding sites could be provided to the Committee on request, as could a list of early childhood development (ECD) centres funded by the DSD to provide food.

Food relief system – call centre

  • The WCG call centre experienced a constraint with the number of inbound lines available, but was working the service provider to remove this obstacle

  • The normal capacity of the WCG contact centre was 17 resources. Additional agents had been sourced, which had brought the total number of resources to 28.

  • The humanitarian relief calls previously fielded by the centre were now also fielded through the addition of a service provider. The initial 10 agents had been increased to 55 agents on 16 April, and this would be increased by an additional 45 call centre agents. This would bring the total up to 100 agents, in addition to the 20 WCG agents.

  • All these would be handling inbound calls. They would, however, be working shifts, so not all agents would be active all the time. However, the maximum number of agents that would be on inbound calls was 55 during peak call time.

  • Calls had peaked at 14 736 on 14 April – the Tuesday after Easter -- from under 10 000 on 10 April (Good Friday), and had decreased to under 6 000 per day by 18 April.

  • In addition to the call centre, there were numerous other points of entry for food relief applications -- for example, through DSD regional and service delivery offices and NPOs.

  • The DSD was working with the service provider on end to end data management, and was looking at how to automate the reporting process, from the logging of a call at the call centre to issuing of the food parcel.

  • It is also looking at the spatial representation of data through mapping. In this way, information on the process would be easily visible to the viewer.

Shelters for the homeless

  • The DSD funds 27 shelters for homeless adults at cost of R19.8 million.

  • This budget provides for three daily meals, two social work supervisors, 22 social workers and four social auxiliary workers

  • With respect to the lockdown, an additional family shelter had been established in Somerset West that can accommodate up to 120 family members.

  • Municipalities had also established temporary shelters, and they received food from NGOs appointed by the national Department of Social Development. The WC DSD provides psychosocial support when required.

  • Currently, 6 681 homeless persons were resident in all these shelters and the bed spaces were at full capacity.


  • Some homeless people do not want to remain in a sheltered environment.

  • Some homeless adults suffer from psychiatric disorders and/or an addiction, and/or are unable to adjust to a confined environment.

  • The number of homeless people at shelters varies on a daily basis, thus making the provision of relief services available to beneficiaries challenging.

  • The provision of mattresses, blankets and other relief goods poses a risk due to theft of goods.

  • The legal uncertainty around the roles and responsibilities in terms of running the shelters, and on whether people in the shelters are allowed to leave

  • The regulatory requirement for temporary shelters may not be compatible with the need to de-congregate people and maintain social distancing during the lockdown.

Remedial action/measures:

  • The DSD was in constant contact with municipal officials and dealing with all referrals for psychosocial support.

  • NGOs had come forward to provide additional support on site where needed.

  • The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) had written to the national Director General (DG) of Social Development, requesting engagement on legal clarity around the roles and responsibilities of different spheres of government in relation to shelters

Gender-based violence (GBV):

  • The DSD funds 20 shelters for survivors of GBV at a cost of R28 million. There were two types of shelter accommodation – Stage 1 and Stage 2.

  • This budget provides for three daily meals, 20 social workers, 15 social auxiliary workers, and 60 housemothers (working shifts).

Stage 1 shelter accommodation consists of four shelters, which admit victims at risk of crime and violence, who are accommodated for the first 14 days. Clients are transferred to Stage 2 accommodation after the initial 14 days, with the South African Police Service (SAPS) assisting with the transport. The Department of Health assists with the medical screening and medical needs of clients. It is therefore essential that all shelters work closely with their nearest health facility

Protocols for victims of crimes, including GBV:

  • All applicable regulatory processes are suspended, in line with the COVID-19 regulations.

  • No victims may be released from the facilities.

  • No visitation.

  • Suspension of the family reunification and interaction programme.

  • New admissions would be processed, provided that the facility complied with the COVID-19. regulations and the victim was provided with the necessary protective wear.

  • Social workers’ reports would be deemed fit for the processing of victims.

  • The prescribed health-related COVID–19 protocols must be adhered to.

As at 21 April, 320 beds at the shelters were filled, with 19 vacant beds in Stage 1 shelters and 57 vacant beds in Stage 2 shelters. Challenges included a shortage of protective gear, such as masks, and clients that should have exited the shelters could not do so due to lockdown regulations. The impact of this could be that no bed spaces may be available by the end of April for new intakes.

Regarding remedial action, requirements with respect to protective gear had been submitted to the national DSD. A request had been submitted to the national DSD to consider relaxing the guidelines to allow clients who had completed their programme and were ready for reunification to be allowed to exit by 30 April.

Substance abuse and COVID-19

The Western Cape DSD funds six in-patient treatment centres at a cost of R19 million. This provides for 726 bed spaces per six to nine week treatment cycle. The current lockdown guidelines, as per the national DSD apply. These are:

  • No clients to be released from the facilities.

  • No visitation.

  • Suspension of the family reunification and interaction programme.

  • No new admissions (with the exception of involuntary admissions as ordered by the courts).

  • Adherence to the prescribed health-related COVID–19 protocols.

  • The services provided by the centres had been declared essential, and workers should be allocated the prescribed permits

It was a challenge that clients that should have exited the treatment programme could not do so due to the lockdown regulations. The national DSD had therefore been requested to consider relaxing the guidelines and to allow clients that had completed their programme and who were ready for reunification, to be allowed to exit by 30 April.

A total of 1 882 NPOs had been funded in the month of April at a cost of R91.357 million.

A further 57 NPOs were not funded due to non-compliance – they had not submitted their audited financial statements as required, by December 2019.

South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) Western Cape

The purpose of the briefing was to provide information on the implementation of the SASSA Social Relief of Distress Programme during the lockdown period, with specific reference to the distribution of the food parcels.

The Social Assistance Act, 2004 (Act 13 of 2004) and regulations, as well as the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) policy aligned to the Act, was applicable for the application and distribution of food parcels. The criteria utilised for the awarding of the food parcels during the Covid-19 lockdown were aligned to the SRD policy, and were the following:

  • Beneficiaries whose social grant applications could not be completed due to the lockdown; or beneficiaries whose temporary disability grants lapsed during the months of February, March and April 2020, and who could not reapply for a disability grant during lockdown;

  • Beneficiaries who could not collect their social grants due to various administrative functions not available during the lockdown, such as failed bank verifications, lost SASSA cards, pin resets, etc.; and

  • Households with no income. Beneficiaries who were in receipt of a social grant were also excluded.

Food parcels application, ordering and delivery process

To date, approximately 30 000 names had been received via community leaders, individuals, councillors and the SASSA head office call centre. On average, the SASSA Regional call centre receives 2 000 calls per day, and still had a backlog of 6 300 calls to deal with.

From the lists of applicants calling, SASSA officials at all its offices in the Western Cape return the calls once a verification is done on the Social Security Pension (SOCPEN) system. Manual applications are completed by the SASSA officials and orders are placed for the delivery of the food parcels at approved service providers appointed by the SASSA head office.

Once the order and delivery date is confirmed by the service provider, the successful applicants are telephonically informed of the date of delivery. Bulk deliveries are done at the SASSA offices (local and fixed service offices) all over the Western Cape, and distribution then proceeds from the SASSA offices. The majority of the successful applicants collect their food parcels at the offices. Others are delivered to the applicants at their homes.

At collection or on delivery, the required documentation of the applicant is verified and the applicant will then sign the manual application, and also sign for the receipt of the food parcels.

During the delivery SASSA is assisted by the SAPS. The assistance of the South African Defence Force (SANDF) had been requested to safeguard the delivery of the food parcels.

Funding for the food parcels

SASSA had received no additional funds for the Covid-19 related food parcels, and was using the annual Social Relief of Distress (SRD) allocation for the purpose. For the 2020/2021 financial year, an amount of R36 million had been allocated, of which R10 million had been set aside for immediate social relief for disaster incidents (such as fires and floods). The once–off cash payments for the persons who lost all their possessions during fire disasters were paid from the R10 million.

A further R11 million had been set aside for the issuing of school uniforms, which left the SASSA Region with R16 million for the food parcels. Food parcels were valued at R1 200 per food parcel. Approximately 14000 food parcels could be awarded over the financial year from the R16m. The number of food parcels could be increased to 22 000 if no school uniforms are provided during this financial year.

According to the Essential Services Committee, the administration of social grants was a non- essential service, but the payment of social grants was an essential service. Offices were thus closed in terms of the Covid-19 regulations. Despite the closure, SASSA still had more than 200 staff members who had volunteered to assist with the processing SRD applications and the distribution of the food parcels.


Mr G Bosman (DA) sought clarity regarding the monetary value of food parcels, and whether or not the data presented on food parcels had included the cost of those delivery parcels which had been looted. He wanted to know what coordination of relief existed between SASSA, NGOs and the WCDSD. He wanted to know how SASSA was dealing the issue of only certain doctors being certified to carry out medical examinations along the Garden Route. He sought an indication from the Department as to how many agents they were working with, along with the criteria for access to food, and whether or not a household needed to be affected by COVID-19 to qualify for relief. He asked for clarity regarding the statistics of GBV cases during the lockdown, and what the plan for homeless people was post lockdown.

Mr Dugmore also asked about the amount of GBV cases that had been registered with the Department during the lockdown, along with how many victims had received assistance thus far, and how many victims were in facilities. Was the Department aware of any cases of GBV occurring with the shelters?

Mr M Sayed (ANC) asked the DSD whether it had considered setting up a provincial food command that would include the various forms of provincial government that would assist local government and the NGO sector. It could be set up through a non-partisan approach, with the leadership of the political parties within the legislature. He said that to ensure that social distancing increased, it would be better to phase out food parcels and implement a cash/voucher approach, which would empower people to go and buy their food with local producers while considering their own specific dietary requirements and preferences.

Mr Xego said that the picture presented by both SASSA and the DSD were contrary to the kind of discomfort that was found by people on the ground. He wanted to know how SASSA and the DSD felt regarding the prison-like set up and the discomfort that had been experienced within the shelters, as he personally felt it was unwarranted. He sought clarity regarding the criteria for the distribution of food parcels. Lastly, he commented that there was a second budget allocated to the Department of Education, and he sought an explanation for the rationale surrounding that budget.

Mr Herron wanted to know what was being done to prevent the politicisation of food parcels, as more and more evidence had been coming forth that indicated that the politicisation of food parcel distribution had been occurring daily. He sought clarity regarding the people who were supposedly collecting names and numbers in various communities. Lastly, he asked for more information from SASSA regarding the funding of food.

Mr Christians wanted to know whether or not the response time of the DSD call centres had decreased, and how many agents there were. A major problem was the politicisation of food parcels, where people were made to join political parties in order to access food parcels, and he wanted to know what the Departments were doing to address that. Lastly, he sought more information surrounding the DSD providing psychological support to the homeless.

Mr Marais stated emotionally that God had given everything -- the sun, moon, sky, sea, trees, and food -- for all to share equally, no matter if one was rich or poor, educated or not. However, discrimination had been disgustingly occurring, and he believed that the criteria being used to identify people were not correct. He wanted to know why a person who was hungry was not just allowed to receive food -- why was the power in the hands of those who felt that they were God?

He questioned how government expected an 85-year-old pensioner, who typically supported between three to five family members, was expected to feed everyone with an amount of R1 800. It was heart-breaking and undignified. People would be better off receiving money via transfer and money markets than to receive food parcels which did not take into account each individual’s dietary requirements or needs. It broke his heart to see just how people were told not to pray to God, but to the councillors, when they were hungry, as the decision lay with them. He explained that while he was not an emotional person, the situation was so dire that to witness what was happening on the ground would bring anyone to tears. Emotionally, he said he would be logging off from the meeting as he could not deal with how the situation had been unfolding in the vulnerable communities, and just needed to be excused.

The Chairperson agreed, and said that Mr Marais was excused from the meeting.

Department’s response

Ms Fernandez said she absolutely agreed with Mr Marais that the situation within the vulnerable communities was heart-breaking, to say the least. Resources from DSD and the solidarity fund that amounted to 250 000 parcels across nine provinces, paled into insignificance in this situation.

She said that the research team was looking at a phase two, as they realised that they were staring a humanitarian crisis in the face. The statement submitted by SASSA encapsulated the pain that everyone lived with every day. It was unprecedented and they had never had to deal with a challenge like that. COVID-19 presented society with a reset model compass in order to help everyone come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and embrace the values of democracy, life, freedom and dignity that they deserved. Whilst she had personally felt touched, unfortunately they worked in the space where they were governed by legislation.

Dr Robert Macdonald, Head: Western Cape Department of Social Development, referred to the feeding scheme space, and said there were 92 feeding scheme sites, four large NGOs distributing the food parcels, and a further 700 also providing food. Although the list was long, it could be provided in writing.

The DSD services had all been declared essential services, so they continued to remain open. They included the child and youth care centres (including orphanages), security exchanges, disability care homes, old age homes, substance abuse treatment centres, and shelters for the homeless.

In addition, the DSD had taken on the feeding scheme. The advantage was that a lot of vulnerable people were already on it, as they had approximately 27 000 people that they fed every day in the residential facilities which they funded.

Regarding the question about the criteria, he said not only people who contracted COVID-19 were worked with. Essentially the wording around COVID-19 involved anyone who had been affected by the lockdown, not just by the illness. Food relief was provided to anyone who had lost income due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and so it did not matter whether someone had contracted the illness or not. He explained that the DSD had a partnership with the Department of Health (DOH), where food relief was specifically targeted for individuals who had been infected with the virus or had been isolated, and due to their circumstances could not leave their homes. In such circumstances, the DSD and DOH needed to provide some kind of support for them.


The parcel process was one leg of the food relief programme. However, much of the focus was on the food parcels, and confusion had occurred between the parcels from government and parcels from the NGOs. According to Dr Macdonald, NGOs were more useful, as their parcels contained non-perishables which lasted longer and were easier to transport. Sites that were used as soup kitchens got easily out of hand when there was not enough food for everyone, and these situations mostly ended in violent disruptions.

The Department would continue rendering their services at the shelters. However, they had been set up temporarily with funding by the DSD, and the post-lockdown norm would depend on the post-lockdown regulations. Municipalities were being brought into the space of running the shelters, as this fell directly within their constitutional mandate, although they were suggesting that the DSD should take over. He said the national Department of Social Development was of the view that social development had a limited role in relation to services made available to adults due to the current legislative gap. While many homeless adults would want to stay in the shelters, a lot of them wanted to leave the shelters, but were prevented from doing so by the SAPS due to the lockdown.

Although he did not have the exact the number of GBV cases reported and referred to Social Development with him, the national call centre had reported a threefold increase in the number of cases reported. There had been 27 GBV cases that had been taken into shelter and a report was in the process of being compiled regarding the psychological support statistics, which were constantly changing. Psychological support was provided for ‘difficult reintegration cases,’ where people who had been in isolation or quarantine needed help being reintegrated into society. While there was not a lot of those cases, there were occasions where a community or family did not want the person to return, fearing that the person would bring illness with them. Work and education would then be done with the family to ensure a smoother reintegration. In total, there were around 2 000 cases requiring psychological support across the board per week, irrespective of the COVID-19 situation. He emphasised that the social workers were providing an essential service, so the DSD would continue to provide it.

Regarding the number of parcels distributed by municipality, the DSD was currently in the process of developing a consolidated database which would try to bring together all that information, as the Department had two sources of food parcel distribution -- one within their own space, and the other being the Community Nutrition and Development Centre (CNDC). No outbreaks had occurred within any of the DSD residential facilities. He emphasised that the Central Food Command which the DSD had set up, fed into the National Command Centre. There was a humanitarian relief network stream which worked on the coordination and mapping of all food relief interventions, and the pulling in of all food relief players.

Shopping centres were becoming increasingly difficult for communities. The looting and closing of spaza shops had left many people with no alternative but to use the shopping centres where the risk of contagion was high, and queues had a waiting period of between one to three hours. Large grocery stores had already been closed due to COVID-19 transmissions, proving that the risk within supermarkets was much higher. The additional R500 billion in relief funding had not yet been allocated to the provinces, so no comments could be made with regard to that.

Politicisation of food parcels would not be tolerated, and any complaints could be dealt with through a number of different channels in order to prevent them from being blocked. Complaints could be lodged through the call centre, the DSD local offices, and even through the municipalities.


Ms Fernandez said that the work which the DSD was doing was rooted in the Department’s system. Awareness was being spread through the news media, and above all it was about ensuring the maintenance of dignity. The Department would be working on the safety net project, and it had been made clear to senior management that politics of any sort at any level among those involved in the food chain would not be tolerated.

The hunger situation arising from the lockdown had created an even greater challenge, as it had moved the DSD’s service from being a safety net to becoming a humanitarian work stream, involving both internal and external stakeholders.

She admitted that it was a sad reality that people would die, and therefore there would be a need for psychological health support and counselling. The situation with the homeless people was not ideal, but it was a national directive.

She thanked everyone involved with the distribution of the food parcels and commended all those Members and councillors who had taken money of their own pockets, as those extra donations and those extra meals could save someone’s life.

Future meetings

The Chairperson said that the Committee had run out of time, and some Members were late for other meetings. It was proposed that the next meeting begin half an hour earlier in order to deal with the Committee administration, which included the minutes as well as the resolutions and directions from Wednesday’s meeting. All resolutions had to be emailed to the Procedural Officers by Tuesday noon at the latest. The programme for the meetings on Wednesday and Thursday next week was as follows:

  • Wednesday 29 April, at 13h30: Policing, security and police brutality.

  • Thursday 30 April, at 14h00: Protection of the vulnerable.

Mr Dugmore stated that the discussion regarding the conduct of the meeting needed to de added to the agenda when the Committee convened again. He had sent an email to the Chairperson regarding the letter that he had sent to the Premier, along with the motivation for the Provincial Food Command, and wanted to know if that could also be added as a subject for discussion.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Dugmore for his point of order. She proposed that the second point made by Mr Dugmore be discussed as one of the administrative items within the first 30 minutes at the next Committee meeting.

Mr Dugmore agreed, and thanked the Chairperson.

Regarding the first point raised by Mr Dugmore, she suggested that it be discussed after the meeting, but Mr Dugmore and Ms Nkondlo, both from the ANC, continued to push for the issue, despite being advised that the chat bar should be used to raise points of order only. Over 57 messages had been posted by the ANC in the chat bar, which was akin to having a full blown conversation, and this had becoming very distracting. She claimed that the ANC had not only disregarded her ruling and continued to use the chat bar function, but had been crude about it as well. She had now ruled on the matter, and any further questions were to be emailed in writing for further responses by the relevant departments.

The Committee was thanked for their attendance and constructive inputs and cooperation. The next meeting would be at 13h30 on Tuesday, 29 April.

The meeting was adjourned.



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