Mr Mpho Putu
The world is living through unprecedented times. The coronavirus (COVID19) is causing anxiety, uncertainty, and disruption. As is often the case, people living in hunger and poverty are likely to suffer the most. Though we may feel powerless and overwhelmed, we are not. Now is the time for the Church to heed God’s call to care for the “least among us.”
COVID19 has been slowly creeping into South Africa. As we seek to ensure our families’ health and safety, to many people, food has never seemed so important, both as a source of nutrition and, for many, of comfort. The question is whether, as economic disruption continues, we can stave off a pandemic-related food crisis.
What and how we eat affects our health and wellbeing. We depend on farmers to continue working their fields, on supermarket cashiers to show up at their jobs, and on drivers to deliver our food to markets or front doors. But there are strains. In some places, food is becoming scarce. Among other concerns, food is being hoarded, leaving little on shelves for most of the poor, vulnerable and marginalised people. In some places more especially in the township we see long queue in shopping malls.
All of us must act, the church included. We must work together to save lives, meet immediate needs through emergency responses, and plan for longer-term solutions to support recovery and build resilience. Governments and the Church need to promote and protect reliable, safe, and affordable food supplies, especially for the most vulnerable.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, food insecurity was already a severe problem. More than 13 million people – one in every four – did not have enough to eat. Of these, four million households were coping with hunger so severe that it poses an immediate threat to life and livelihoods. The pandemic’s economic impact will cause these numbers to rise. The most vulnerable groups are mostly members of churches, the urban poor, people in the remote areas, migrants, the informally employed, and other vulnerable groups.
Any effective response to a COVID19-related food crisis requires examining how to restructure our national food systems. The goal is to ensure political and financial stability, protect our communities from poor health and environmental degradation, and ensure economic vitality. Like medical care, food must be available and accessible to the most vulnerable all over the country. Food producers and retailers must ensure that healthy, nutritious foods are available and not wasted.
Government is expected to establish or strengthen social protection mechanisms to protect the most vulnerable. The elderly, people living with disabilities, pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and school children who depended on the feeding programmes. Currently, the South African government has developed strategies to address the shortage of income and vulnerabilities the citizens might experience sooner. Some of the strategies include utilizing UIF grants to make it available for the workers who are not receiving their wages, ensuring social grants are paid on time and that food is available.
Government at local and provincial levels including business are rolling out a massive food parcel programme and campaigns. This is to mitigate temporarily the hunger in many communities. However the biggest challenge will soon be the shortage of income and money to buy food, shortage of the food in the tables and that might send the people to the street.
The big question is what is the church putting on the table to partner with Government and Business? Would it not be best for the church to pledge and start putting together a number of food parcels it want to raise collectively.
The church must understand the efforts and interventions by government including possible risks and challenges that may pose as a threat. The church must show solidarity with both Government, business and food producers to transport, and sell food without being threatened. Many people are worried about having enough to get through the current crisis.
The church and its communities are vital in overcoming and mitigation hunger and promoting justice in South Africa today. The church is the most relevant, trusted networks and messengers in every society. They have a constant and uninterrupted presence, even in the most remote community. If hunger is to be overcome, faith communities need to be taken into confidence and be working with the governments, international agencies and the broader society.
The church can be active in organising, and accompanying communities, to face the ongoing challenges, to keep the communities in urban, rural and remote areas sustainable and dynamic. They are actively assisting communities in facing hunger and loss of livelihood. Faith communities contribute to the strength, solidarity, hope and resilience. The church is reminded
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt 25:35), so the way Jesus sees it is, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40). James brought attention to this area when he wrote “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
During the Covid19 the church is called to be practical by
- Identifying, profile and supporting the most vulnerable households its community
- Pledge a number of decent food parcels to contribute to a collective basket.
- Use its tithes and offering to buy the food for the poor and vulnerable household in its community
- Being available to assist Government and business to distribute food parcel to the most vulnerable households
- Offer to use its facilities to be used for packaging and storing the food parcels
- Avail its members to volunteer to assist in the packing and delivery of food, and also provide security services
- Join other initiatives by donating funds toward procurement of food parcel to serve the community
- Continuing to support the government’s efforts and mission to address COVID19
May the Lord continue to bless and heal our country.
Mpho Putu is the Food Security and Nutrition Project Manager at the National Department of Social Development (NDSD)