Implementation of food distribution programmes: MECs and HODs briefing; Update on progress made to respond to Covid19 pandemic issues; with Ministers

Social Development

25 June 2020
Chairperson: Mr M Gungubele (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Social Development 25:06:2020

The Committee was briefed by the national Department of Social Development (DSD) and representatives of the provincial DSDs on the implementation of food distribution programmes. The Department also updated the Committee on preparations for the reopening of early childhood development (ECD) services. The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) reported on progress with the social relief of distress (SRD) payments.

The delegates from the provinces indicated their main challenge was the lack of coordination in the distribution of food parcels. They also drew attention to the fact that the demand for support from the community generally far outweighed the resources available. Initiatives had been implemented to improve the distribution process, as the lack of coordination between role players had hindered the delivery of food parcels.

The Committee appreciated the cooperation and support from the national and provincial Departments in ensuring that the needs of people in distress were being addressed during the difficult time of the pandemic. It also welcomed the donations received from civil society and institutions, as well as the assistance from volunteers who contributed to food relief programmes in aid of the most vulnerable members of the society. The rising level of food insecurity was a major concern. The indication was that 50% of the population was at risk of becoming food insecure.

The Committee was informed of progress made in resolving the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) database issues that had caused a delay in the payment of the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant. Arrangements had been made with four banks to fast track payments. The opening of ECD services was being considered due to the change in COVID-19 operating levels. Capacity building training programmes were scheduled to start on 20 July to prepare ECD centres for compliance with COVID-19 protocols.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone present. With a heavy heart, he paid tribute to one of the Members of the Committee, Ms Tandi Mpambo-Sibhukwana (DA), who recently passed away. A minute of silence was held in her memory.

The Committee Organiser performed a roll call of the Members of Executive Councils (MECs) and Heads of Departments (HODs), and confirmed that all provinces were represented.

The Chairperson acknowledged the presence of Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, and thanked the Members from the provinces for prioritising this meeting. Apologies were tabled and noted.

Minister’s opening remarks

Minister Zulu said the presentation would be delivered as agreed amongst the Directors-General (DG), MECs and HODs. She had an urgent regulation meeting and asked to be excused after delivering her opening remarks. She would be re-joining the meeting before it ended.

The Minister said that as the Department would be dealing with the COVID-19 report, she hoped that the Committee would have time to discuss the issues in the report. Her greatest concern was the rise in the numbers of those affected, and the rise in the number of deaths reported. She appealed to the Committee and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) to unite and work together to ensure that people were provided with information so that a behavioural change could occur. It was concerning that a lot of people in the country were not complying with the COVID-19 protocols, hence the rise in the number of infections.

The Minister pleaded for continued coordination in the manner that the Department and agencies worked together. She had full confidence that the MECs and HODs at the provincial level were doing their best, and asked for better communication between the Department of Social Development (DSD) and national government to ensure proper coordination between all role players.  The government was committed to fighting poverty and inequality, but at this time of COVID-19, the situation was getting worse. She was concerned that the Department would not be getting the support it needed to help with the challenges, based on the budget presented by the Minister of Finance. The episodes of food insecurity were largely associated with poverty and high unemployment levels.

In conclusion, she said that the anti-poverty strategies and approaches to addressing food insecurity must be connected to the developmental nature of the state. The adequacy of structures must be investigated. The growing unemployment statistics were a huge challenge and hampered the creation of a caring and self-reliant society. It was important to consider what needed to be done post COVID-19 in terms of working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and non-profit organisations (NPOs) in support of each other. The people in communities should not be excluded from these discussions. The biggest concern at the moment was the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) payment. She hoped that the presentations would shed light on the R350 SRD grant in terms of what was being done and how fast it could be distributed.

The Chairperson expressed his appreciation for the powerful message of the Minister. He summarised the message as follows: the impact of COVID-19 was reaching higher levels of intensity, resources were stretched, improved communication and working together was becoming more important, and educating the society about COVID-19 was critical.

Implementation of food distribution programmes

Department of Social Development

Mr Linton Mchunu, Acting Director General (DG): DSD, said he would deliver the first part of the presentation. Ms Totsie Memela, Chief Executive Officer (CEO): SASSA, would deliver the second part, as it was considered important to include the work that was being done around food distribution through SASSA. Thereafter, the MECs and HODs would speak to specific issues in the provinces.

The Chairperson asked whether Mr Mchunu would be making a full presentation, and the provinces would fill in where information was left out.

The Acting DG replied that he would speak to the first few slides, and the provinces would speak to their specific areas.

Mr Mchunu said that over the past few years, the Department had had a successful and well-tested distribution model that was plugged into the existing facilities of the DSD, which included the early childhood development (ECD) facilities. It partnered with various stakeholders to ensure that as many people as possible were reached. The indication was that the food challenges required a multi-pronged approach, which included working with business in the private sector, government and civil society. Whilst the Department had responded adequately to the existing demand prior to COVID-19, the new demand for food presented challenges around coordination. Some of the issues that it had to deal with was to build efficient systems to track and monitor distribution. The Department was looking forward to the assistance from the Committee in terms of being accommodated in the budgetary process.

The biggest problem was the rising level of poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, 14 million people (23.8% of the population) were food insecure. Only 5.2 million (37%) had access to food through the support of government and other partners. Approximately 8.8million (63%) more people would need support. According to preliminary estimates, provinces would need R868 million to support 1.5 million people in the next three months. According to StatsSA, 50% of the population was at risk of becoming food insecure. An estimated 5.2 million people had been assisted through the distribution of 1 037 648 food parcels. This had been done with the support of institutions such as the Solidarity Fund, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, and the SASSA SRD Fund.

Food distribution programme strategy

The pre-COVID-19 strategy was to use provincial distribution centres to provide cooked meals. The strategy had changed to providing food parcels through NPOs, donors and other institutions during the lockdown period. Currently under investigation was the introduction of food vouchers as a post-COVID-19 strategy. The intention was to allow people to use the food vouchers for airtime and electricity. The idea was to create a sense of dignity to the recipients due to the stigma attached to food parcels. The distribution of food parcels was also cumbersome and expensive.

The household survey conducted by StatsSA revealed that the highest demand for support was in the North West (37%), the Northern Cape (32%), the Eastern Cape (25%) and KwaZulu-Natal (25%). The hot spots were identified as areas on the outskirts of cities and in informal settlements.

The contents of the food parcels had had to be drastically reduced to accommodate more people. To maintain the nutritional value of the food parcels, the main categories -- starch, protein, vegetables and seasoning – had been retained. Soap had been added to the parcel.

Mr Mchunu concluded by saying the DSD was exploring the manner in which communication with recipients could be improved -- for example, by including COVID-19 leaflets in the food parcels.

South African Social Security Agency

Ms Memela said that the budget allocation for the 2020/2021 financial period was R407million. An estimated R127 million had been spent on SRD payments for the period 1 April to 22 June.

To ensure equal distribution of food parcels, the allocation up to 22 June had been done on a district level. A total of 97 462 food parcels had been issued. Food parcels ordered totalled 109 541. In total, 149 489 applications had been received, of which 115 490 were approved and 23 964 rejected.

She said that it was critical to highlight that people applied for relief through an online application system. Suppliers in each province made deliveries of food parcels directly to persons who applied through the verification of an identity document (ID) and by signing a delivery note. She said that it was critical to account for the distribution of food parcels, and that no parcels had been handed to councillors.

Provincial Departments

Eastern Cape

Ms Siphokazi Mani-Lusithi, MEC: Social Development, Eastern Cape, reported that 37 085 people had been reached through the 7 417 food parcels that were distributed. Through the provincial Command Council, donations had been organised from institutions including the Solidarity Fund, local farmers and churches, the National Lottery Foundation, Tiger Brands and Albany Bakery.

District municipalities were involved in the distribution of food parcels, which was organised through a centralised government system, targeting public-private networks and decentralised civil society networks.

Distribution was centralised, with targeted interventions in most poverty-stricken areas. The district municipalities coordinated their own feedback through the establishment of food banks. Other community-driven initiatives had emerged to provide protection services to the poor and vulnerable members of the community.

The province struggled with poor coordination within government and other institutions to implement interventions. The additional social grant intervention was targeted at mostly rural communities.

Free State

Ms Mamiki Qabathe, MEC: Social Development, Free State, reported that 253 490 people had been reached through the distribution of 50 698 food parcels. The donors included the Solidarity Fund, NPOs funded by the National Lotteries Commission, municipalities through the assistance of National Government, the provincial food distribution centre (ADRA), and church-based organisations.

The Department used various distribution channels through the provincial equitable share. Distribution was done through the Office of the Premier. MECs were deployed throughout the province. Community Nutrition and Developmental Centres (CNDCs) assisted with temporary shelters for the homeless. Church-based organisations also assisted.

The partnerships with various stakeholders ensured that food parcels were distributed to households in need. The Department was also supported by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to reduce the risk of looting. The donation from Princess Charlene of Monaco had not been captured on the list of donors, but her foundation was doing a good job in assisting the province.

Food distribution was a labour-intensive process, and the uncoordinated approach amongst the different stakeholders to identity and verify the recipients of food parcels, was a problem. The MEC agreed that food vouchers would be a cheaper distribution option, but was sceptical that it would assist small businesses.

Gauteng

The Chairperson congratulated Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi, in her absence, with her appointment as the new Social Development MEC in Gauteng, and wished her good luck. Mr Onkemetse Kabasia, Director-General, DSD Gauteng, said he would relay the message to the MEC.

The DDG reported that 269 133 food parcels had been distributed, reaching 1.3 million people. In terms of the budget, R244 million had been allocated for food relief through the equitable share, of which R138 million had been allocated to deal with COVID-19 food relief.  Donations from different donors had also assisted with food relief programmes.

The Department had made use of five distribution centres across the province to distribute food parcels with the assistance of staff at community development agencies and social workers. It had adopted a mixed approach to distributing food parcels, which included a centralised warehousing system and a knock and drop (door-to-door) initiative with the assistance of law enforcement agencies.

The number of food parcels distributed was 293 866, reaching 1.4million people as at 24 June.

Not all donors could be listed, as the list of donors was quite long. Shell South Africa had contributed 10 000 food parcels. Distribution had been facilitated through a central warehouse.

The main challenge was that the demand for food outstripped the supply, and the limited supply hampered the ability to respond. Interventions to address the impact and effect of the pandemic had been limited. The DDG concluded that the Committee should reflect on how interventions could be sustained after COVID-19. 

KwaZulu-Natal

Ms Nelisiwe Vilakazi, HOD: Social Development, KwaZulu-Natal, confirmed that 107 720 people had been reached through the distribution of 21 544 food parcels. The distribution expenditure to date was R6.2 million.

Distribution to households had been done based on beneficiaries that were clustered according to geographical settings. Communication lines with communities had been enhanced to ensure that beneficiaries were informed about the date of delivery. Organisations involved in the distribution process included NPO service providers such as WWO SA, Healing Peps and the Nsikazi Foundation.

Due to the partnership with the Action Development Agency (ADA), more members of the community could be assisted. In partnership with local and traditional leadership, identification of beneficiaries was done through a war room which was aligned to the district development model. The war rooms, in partnership with ADA, made it easier to reach more people. Donations totalling R10.2million had been received through the ADA from the Solidarity Fund and the Old Mutual Foundation.

More people had needed support than what the province was able to provide due to the limited budget. The beneficiaries were profiled in advance, which posed a problem as community members who did not get food parcels, started questioning the selection criteria.

Limpopo

Mr Desmond Mahopo, Acting HOD Social Development: Limpopo, reported that 108 419 food parcels were distributed, reaching 542 095 people at the expense of R39 million.

The distribution mechanisms had been efficient, but it was not without challenges. To facilitate coordination and management, district food banks were established where donations could be delivered. Distribution teams included traditional leaders, councillors and volunteers. The province had had minimal disruption with the implementation of food relief programmes.

The Acting HOD took the opportunity to thank everyone in the distribution teams.

Donations of R2.5 million from the Solidarity Fund, the Disaster Relief Fund, the National Lottery Commission, the Old Mutual Foundation and Kironox had been largely made in cash.

The rural nature of the province was a big challenge. The opening up of the economy had resulted in less support from donors. Donor fatigue was a problem, and the lack of coordination resulted in donors making donations willy-nilly. There was currently a court case about this matter. Lastly, the province had developed a social relief package which had been delivered to provincial Treasury and the mining sector for assistance. 

Mpumalanga

Ms Belinda Mojapelo, Acting HOD: Social Development, Mpumalanga, said 60 188 parcels had been distributed to 300 940 beneficiaries. The expenditure to date was R48.4 million.

The province had partnered with the Department of Agriculture through a hub that was established, and officials of the Department had assisted with the distribution of food parcels. In terms of a provincial Command Council resolution and in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, 100 parcels per ward had been distributed. In collaboration with the Department of Education, food at the schools was repackaged and delivered directly to households.

Donations from institutions were mainly received in kind from various organisations, including blankets and dignity packs from the Red Cross, sugar from RCL Foods, washing powder and boxes of tea from Unilever, maize meal and soya beans from Siyakhula Foods, and fruit from the Farmers Association.

The province could not cater for the huge demand, due to the limited budget. The lack of a well-established information technology (IT) system to register beneficiaries posed a problem. The province had engaged the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) to assist with the huge problem of homeless shelters.

Northern Cape

Ms Hendrina Samson, HOD Social Development: Northern Cape, said that although the Northern Cape was a small province, it had an impact in so far as it benefited 52 673 households, and had reached 263 365 people through the delivery of food parcels. The expenditure had been R31 million.

The province was short of resources and relied solely on DSD officials and volunteers to deliver the parcels to households. Social workers were also part of the district distribution teams. Distribution plans had been shared with the SA Police and the SANDF for their support with the distribution process.

The province had been able to feed indigent households and those in distress. Learners at school were assisted through feeding schemes and benefited from nutritional programmes. Emerging businesses were also supported. The province was able to successfully account to the Auditor General. Through the assistance of a large number of donors, a further 17 000 households could be assisted with food parcels.

The province was vast, which presented spatial challenges, and with the limited budget the excessive demand could not be addressed. The province was also the hub of renewable energy and mining.

North West

Ms Masego Mekgwe, Acting HOD: Social Development: North West, reported that with the assistance of Provincial Treasury, R11.8 million had been allocated for food relief through the provincial equitable share.

The province relied on social workers and community development practitioners to assist with the assessment of applications. Distribution was done directly to households.

The partnership with SASSA, COGTA, the Department of Public Works, as well as the mining sector, ensured that food relief services were done efficiently and with a reasonable level of coverage.

The support of donors, mainly from the mining sector across the province, was appreciated. In partnership with faith-based organisations, shelters could be offered to homeless people.

The donation of food parcels had been limited to areas surrounding the mines. A protocol had been developed to ensure proper communication, after negative media coverage regarding the distribution of food parcels. The Executive Authority had approved a rapid response initiative to ensure that the most rural areas were covered.

Western Cape

Dr Robert Macdonald, HOD: Social Development, Western Cape, reported that 50 758 food parcels had been distributed to 250 000 beneficiaries. The expenditure was R23 million. In addition, a further 5 000 food parcels were currently being distributed, and 3 000 more food parcels were being held in reserve for people who were self-isolating and could not get to the shops.

Four large NGOs, including humanitarian relief agencies, had been funded to distribute the food parcels on behalf of the Department.

The Department had received very generous donations. A lot more donations had been offered that were not accepted by the Department. A number of donations had been made directly to beneficiaries by corporates and NGOs. 

The need for food relief had outstripped the supply, which had led to unrest during the distribution process. Coordination of food relief interventions was also a challenge. The province had established a humanitarian workstream under the provincial Coordinating Command Council to manage food relief interventions by all other role players.

The school feeding scheme had been reactivated in order to provide approximately 100 000 hot meals to learners on a take-away basis. The province had managed to distribute food parcels in collaboration with the private sector, law enforcement agencies and community leadership.

Social Relief of Distress payments

SASSA

Ms Memela said that despite a commitment of a R50 billion allocation, only R41bn had been announced the previous day for this particular grant. The R50 billion commitment had been announced by the President on 21 April as a top-up of existing social grants, and the introduction of a special COVID-19 SRD grant in the form of a R350 cash payment from May to October to applicants who qualified according to the criteria.

Measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 included an increase in the R300 child support grant (only in May), a top-up of existing grants of R250 (May to October), the SRD grant of R500 for care givers (June to October) and an SRD grant of R350 to unemployed citizens for a period of six months. After having resolved the issue of declined applications, many due to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) database issue, sufficient funds were available to cover seven million clients, who may include people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Preparations were under way for the next tranche of payments after most of the issues had been resolved.

The Department had initially received a special allocation of R3.4 billion for the roll-out of the SRD grant. However, in light of the previous day’s announcement, SASSA would be getting an understanding from the DSD on how this allocation was going to be deployed.

Ms Memela said the SRD grant was paid to individuals, as per the qualifying criteria, which included being a South African citizen who was unemployed and not receiving any income. However, a recap of the criteria was being investigated for new clients. It became imperative to look at other channels, in addition to the existing channels, as the system was overburdened and took too long.

Progress on COVID-19 SRD payments reflected 1.9 million applicants being paid as at 22 June, but more payments had been made since then. To date, 2.1 million of the 3.2 million approved applications had been paid. The intention was to pay all applicants, as most were in the payment process.

Referring to the COVID-19 SRD grant applications, approvals and payments per province as at 20 June, she said total payments of R691 million had been made, which represented 61% of the approved applications. The idea was to complete the remaining 39% of approved applications during this month to prepare for the next cycle of payments.

The Chairperson asked for clarification of the 61% of payments.

Ms Memela responded that seven million applications had been received, and the 61% represented the 3.2 million approved applications. The R691 million had been paid to 1.9 million beneficiaries. Most of the payments (1.2 million) had been made to male beneficiaries, and the remaining 760 000 to female beneficiaries.

The number of failed applications had changed from 3.3 million as at 20 June, to 2.9 million as at 25 June. This total was in respect of applications that had failed in the initial vetting process linked to the UIF database. The criteria had been too wide, which had resulted in some applications which may have qualified, being declined. A new vetting process had been started on 25 June, and payments would be fast tracked.

A breakdown of the payment schedule showed that of the 3.3 million applications currently in the validation process, two million were linked to UIF database issues. The UIF-linked applications would be run through the new database to investigate the entries. It was interested to note that the 3.3 million applications also included public servants and National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students. After an engagement with the South African Revenue Service (SARS), it had been decided to also run the data against the SARS database, as it was important to check other databases.

In addition to the other COVID-19 grants and top-ups introduced in May, SASSA had also paid a total of R3.5 billion as a special care givers grant of R500 to 7.1 million care givers.

Reopening of Early Childhood Development services

Ms Conny Nxumalo, DDG: Welfare Services, DSD, presented an update on the preparations for the reopening of Early Childhood Development (ECD) services. 

The announcement of the National State of Disaster had resulted in the closure of approximately 28 000 centres catering for 2.1 million children, and employing 42 000 practitioners. The issue of parents returning to work had forced the Department to reconsider the opening of ECD centres. The centres also provided safe spaces for children.

The elements guiding the framework for the opening of ECD centres revolved around opening procedures for those struggling to meet COVID-19 protocols.  The Vangasali campaign, meaning: “let’s not leave anyone behind,” had been launched on 2 June with the goal of bringing on board all unregistered ECD programmes. In the redesign of the programme, after-care facilities had also been included. Centres that were ready would be opened, but those not ready would be supported to comply with the protocols.

The risk factors considered in the reopening of ECD centres were linked to the increase in child abuse cases, the high number of unregistered centres that would expose children to health and safety risks, and the loss of employment of practitioners in the sector. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) had been introduced to mitigate the risks. Examples of SOPs included adults in ECD centres taking the responsibility of always wearing protective gear such as masks and gloves, a change in procedures for drop-off and pick-up of children, and adhering to physical distancing guidelines. Reasonable steps had to be taken to help children to keep a distance of at least one metre from each other when they are seated, and when they engage in other activities. Children would not be required to wear masks, but needed to wash hands regularly.

The Chairperson referred to a video of Chinese children going to school under lockdown conditions and remarked how unbelievably good the infrastructure was.

Discussion

Ms L Arries (EFF) said that there were 8.8 million people who were food-insecure in the country. In comparing the distribution costs of food parcels per province, she noted differences and asked for an explanation, considering that the standard cost per food parcel was R740. The number of food parcels distributed in Limpopo was double compared to the distribution in the Free State, but the costs were almost the same. A similar number of food parcels had been distributed in the Free State as in the Western Cape, but the costs in the Free State were almost double the costs in the Western Cape. The differences were worrisome, and she asked for clarification of the costs involved in the distribution process. In Gauteng, food parcels had been delivered only once since the lockdown started. She asked how many times parcels had been distributed by the DSD, and what the progress was in cases involving public officials involved in the looting of food parcels. Clarification was also sought about the reasons for the change in the payment date by SASSA. The R350 special grant was a big problem for people in the community who received SMS notifications about unsuccessful applications, but mechanisms for appeals were non-existent.

Ms A Abrahams (DA) asked whether the use of food vouchers to which the Acting DDG had referred, was in use and if it was, on what date it had been implemented. She proposed that food vouchers should be referred to as “dignity vouchers,” since they would also allow recipients to buy airtime and electricity. She enquired whether the CEO of SASSA was aware of the glitches at the UIF which had impacted on the SRD payments, and if the delivery of food parcels in the provinces had stopped. She queried how was it possible for the Eastern Cape to get to the exact amount of R740 per municipality and per recipient while, according to her calculations, the average expenditure per food parcel differed per province. Detail was requested about the number of food parcels looted. She asked whether the capacity building training, scheduled to start on 20 July, applied to all registered ECD centres, and whether the training needed to be done before centres could reopen. Was the DSD also going to ensure that non-registered ECD centres complied with COVID-19 related regulations, or would these centres be closed?

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) agreed that Ms Arries had raised a valid question regarding the food relief grant, and asked why only R740 of the R1 200 allocated per food parcel was spent on food. If 50% of South Africans were going to become food insecure, then the food voucher system needed urgent attention. She asked what the status was of the ongoing talks with embassies regarding the support of their citizens living in South Africa. The Mpumalanga and Western Cape provinces had reopened schools to assist with the increasing rate of malnutrition, and she queried why the other provinces were not doing the same. Lessons learnt from COVID-19 showed that tracking of food parcels was becoming important to ensure that some families did not get multiple parcels, while others did not get any. She asked that provinces account for the stolen food parcels.

Challenges remained regarding the SRD grant, and the process needed to be fast tracked as Members of Parliament (MPs) were being overwhelmed with calls from citizens whose applications had been rejected. The SASSA CEO had indicated that people would get paid by the end of June, but she questioned whether this would actually happen and what the average time frame was for processing an application. The President had convened a technical task team, led by the Reserve Bank, to develop proposals that would assist SASSA with an immediate verification process. She asked whether the DSD had taken the proposals on board or rejected them. She reiterated the point that the application process needed to be fast tracked.   

Ms T Breedt (FF+) asked when the ECD centres would be reopening, considering the Minister’s remarks that the DSD would be led by the Department of Basic Education and the anxiety of distressed parents that had to go to work. How would issues such as physical distancing be explained at the ECD centres? The ECD court case involving Solidarity was supposed to be in court on 23 June, and the DSD had indicated it would oppose, but it had not appeared in court and the responding affidavit had not been filed, which resulted in a cost order against the DSD. The unnecessary costs would have a negative impact on the budget of the Department.

She thanked SASSA for the SRD initiative and asked if those people whose applications were declined, due to the UIF issue, would have to reapply and what the repeal process entailed. She asked whether the DSD was considering an audit into the distribution costs of food parcels. She was concerned that the “missing middle” had been excluded from receiving food parcels, and asked what the selection criteria were in order to qualify for food parcels. Were remedies being implemented to address the problem of double-dipping? The officials of the Northern Cape helped with the distribution of food parcels, and she questioned how the other provinces managed the distribution. She asked if donations were made on a once-off basis, or whether they had been done in terms of a memorandum of understanding.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) suggested that there must be a new way of distributing food parcels without the high costs involved, and proposed that it should be localised. If more than half of the nation was going to need food parcels, then community footprints should be used for distribution instead of humanitarian agencies. The biggest challenge was the length of time it took to distribute the parcels. Local footprints such as churches and other community organisations could be used as warehouses to speed up distribution. She asked whether the DSD had considered the people in the hospitality sector, and whether there had been collaboration with the small businesses sector to assist the self-employed who had been paying levies but had been denied relief packages. She was concerned about the delay in the opening of ECD centres, as children were at home without supervision, as was the case in her constituency, where a child was neglected for three days.

The Chairperson highlighted the dilemma with the different rationales for and against the reopening of schools. He said that COVID-19 was challenging and expressed his appreciation, on behalf of the Committee, to the volunteers and those who had made donations to the DSD.

Mr D Stock (ANC) indicated that he had not been granted an opportunity to contribute to the discussion. However, a break in his network connection occurred when he started to speak.

The Chairperson suggested that a special session with the National Development Agency (NDA) was needed to deliberate on the huge threat of food insecurity that a large number of the population could experience as a result of the pandemic. He referred to the scary nature of the malnutrition statistics in relation to the transition of children from ECD to social departments, and asked whether mechanisms could be introduced to ensure that all children had access to food. In summary, matters of concern across provinces related to a problem of coordination, and the fact that the demand for food exceeded the supply.

At this point, Mr Stock reconnected to the meeting, but his connection was again terminated before he spoke.

The Minister suggested that he submit his questions via WhatsApp or SMS.

Responses

Mr Mchunu said that the average cost of a food parcel was R700, but quantities and costs of food parcels differed, particularly in instances where contributions were received from donors. At a national level, distribution had been done once or twice, but provinces had been able to do more. He said the food voucher option was being explored, and the distribution of food parcels had not stopped. The turn around time for the delivery of food parcels was 48 hours, as it included perishables like fruit and vegetables.

Ms Nxumalo said that the capacity building training courses were directly despatched to the ECD centres, and were easy to follow. Both registered and non-registered centres had been targeted, and the well-established centres had to help other centres to prepare for COVID-19 compliance. The DSD was collaborating with the DBE, the Department of Health and other departments regarding the reopening of centres.

In response to the SRD question raised by Ms Van der Merwe, Ms Memela replied that one million people must still be paid, and that 100 000 accounts had been opened in the past week. Other channels had been explored and the agreements with four banks were being finalised to assist in speeding up the payment process. The Department had been provided with the UIF database on 25 June, and planned to complete the verification process by the end of the weekend.

Ms Dianne Dunkerly, Executive Manager: SASSA Grants Administration, said that the distribution of food parcels in all provinces had stopped, as more organisations had become involved in food relief. The sole focus of the agency was on the R350 SRD payments. She explained that the cost of food parcels ranged from between R800 to R900, and that the balance was allocated to transport, packaging and warehouse expenses, which was done in terms of contracts with service providers. The term of these contracts would expire at the end of June, but an extension was requested in anticipation of future disasters.  

Minister Zulu indicated that SASSA had omitted to respond to one of the questions, but she was unable to convey further detail as she also experienced intermittent connectivity problems.

Ms Memela said the Minister may have referred to the question about the change in payment dates, or the appeal process for rejected applications. She asked Ms Dunkerly to respond.

Ms Dunkerly said SASSA was working on developing an appeal system for applications that had been rejected due to the UIF database issues, and the detail of the appeal process would be published.

Ms Memela, after she had connected with the Minister to clarify her request, responded to the issue of the task team, and said that SASSA had not been initially aware of its work. However, a decision had been made to take on board the concepts that had been developed, as they would be of help for future initiatives. The goal was to build internal capabilities.  

Ms Mojapelo said that during lockdown level five in Mpumalanga, the food that was meant for soup kitchens at schools had been donated to the Department, where it had been repackaged and distributed to households.

Mr Kabasia said that food parcels in Gauteng were distributed at the beginning of the lockdown period, and that the second round of distributions was currently being done. However, the list of recipients was long. The cost per food parcel was between R400 to R600, which was cheaper than the standard costs, as buying in bulk had the advantage of getting more for less money. He agreed that the food vouchers would reduce the logistic-related costs.

Ms Samson said the challenges in the Northern Cape province were of a logistical nature and not related to service providers. The Department had to rely on sister departments for transport to distribute the parcels.

Ms Qabathe said that although the cost per parcel differed in the Free State, on average it amounted to R700. The breakdown of the costs in the presentation reflected the figures as they were received from the district municipalities.

The Chairperson requested the Minister to give her concluding remarks, but she struggled to do so due to continued connectivity problems.

He thanked everyone for participating in the discussion and reiterated his appreciation and gratitude to all provinces for their presence and support of the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.

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