Allegations have surfaced of councillors and other officials in several provinces undercutting the government’s attempts to feed poor communities during lockdown, by keeping food packages for themselves and their families, or rerouting them to their supporters instead of the wider community.
According to the City Press, councillors have already been suspended, or are currently under investigation for this practice – and other abuses – in several provinces, including Gauteng, North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape.
Some of the allegations that officials are being investigated for include:
- Trying to sell essential goods to foreign-owned stores – and threatening them with closure if they do not agree to buy;
- Nepotism in handing out food packages – giving them to supporters or family instead of the vulnerable communities;
- Food packages not being handed out, but rather sold to poor communities;
- Irregularities in issuing permits for mobility during lockdown;
- Issuing fake permits to businesses;
- Selling fake documents to people, such as proof of residence;
- Using food packages specifically for political campaigning;
- Stockpiling food packages for use during political meetings or gatherings;
- Delivering sub-standard bootleg sanitiser products;
- General incompetence in administering the process.
While these allegations have reached the ears of senior officials in the affected provinces, and several investigations are underway, political leaders told the City Press that it is difficult to pin down the problems as the processes are handled at various levels – from provincial government down to ward councillors.
The provincial office of the Department of Social Development in KwaZulu Natal said it was aware of “opportunists” taking advantage of the lockdown and coronavirus crisis, but said there was little it could do, as distribution of food packages was being done at a district level.
Ward councillors and district officials identify which people and communities are in need of aid, and these lists are then drawn up for the department to then deliver on, said KZN Department of Social Development spokesperson, Mhlaba Memela.
“People will always find a way to manipulate the system, but they will be caught as what they are doing is illegal,” Memela told the City Press.
The lockdown has put South Africa under immense pressure, both economically and socially – with analysts warning that the coming weeks will test the limits of its citizens.
Initially planned to last 21 days, president Cyril Ramaphosa extended the lockdown to 35 days to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The lockdown isn’t a measure to defeat the virus, but rather to ‘flatten the curve’ of its spread – to minimise the peak number of infections, and ensure that the country’s healthcare system is not overwhelmed.
However, South Africans stuck at home, many without work, are already getting frustrated – particularly with some of the government’s more stifling regulations, such as a ban on cigarettes and alcohol, the sale of hot foods, and prohibitions on leaving one’s property for a walk or a jog.
This has not only led to some civil disobedience with regard to the regulations, but also a rise in criminal elements such as looting and illicit sales.
According to political analyst Daniel Silke, the extended lockdown will test the limits of South Africans’ tolerance to be unnaturally isolated, noting that even within the first three weeks there was a marked increase in looting and unrest.
While most of society, including businesses and opposition parties and citizens in general stood in solidarity with the move – during the extended period, these ties will fray and start to come undone.
Political parties, who have been generally locked out of the response to the Covid-19 crisis up until now, will start speaking out and calling for (their alternatives), businesses will struggle futher, and criminal elements will take full advantage , he said.
“Five weeks of lockdown are likely to stretch the tolerance of citizens who are unnaturally confined to their homes and prevented from more regular activities.
“Already, we have seen liquor stores looted, illicit tobacco dealings back in action and abandoned schools vandalised. Crime therefore is mutating as the lockdown creates new avenues for offences,” Silke said.
“Thus far, South Africa has managed a commendable show of unity of purpose. But don’t expect this to last forever. ”