COVID-19 Exposes Government Failure to Deliver Services to the Poor

by Bishop Johannes Seoka

Once again South Africa finds itself in a Cul-de Sac in service delivery because of the COVID-19 negative impact. Not only have we seen lack of leadership in the behavior of the law enforcement amidst the Coronavirus but continuous chaos in food and water distribution in areas that have not enjoyed basic service delivery since the dawn of our democracy in 1994.

Pictures of longest lines, never seen before, even during the apartheid days are now seen all the way from Cape Town in the Western Cape to Beit Bridge in Limpopo. The poor, especially the most vulnerable, the elderly and people with disabilities are subjected to queuing for their pension grants in open and cold situations where pay-outs are done.  Payments could have been done differently, for instance, through direct banking deposits of money into the recipients account so that people, particularly the elderly do not have to be subjected to undignified and humiliating positions.  Suggestions of giving coupons instead of food parcels have been the subject of discussions but not implemented yet. This of course would be one way of restoring dignity to people.

This chaos should by now have been attended to but there seems to be lack of political will to give the poor the dignity they deserve humans and citizens. Only yesterday there were pictures of people from the Eastern Cape showing people and cars, almost on top of each other, rushing for either their child grants or pension payments. Shamefully the officials paid double sums of money to some people while others were not paid at all. Now those who got paid more have been instructed to return the extra money mistakenly paid to them. This is how inefficient our government officials are in serving its citizens – voters who have elected them for the sole purpose of service delivery. I hope people will vote with their heads not follow their hearts at our next elections in 2024.

Notwithstanding, the matter of Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has not been resolved. Unemployed 10 million, and still counting, people who have filed for their UIF continue to be subjected to starvation while being told that they can access grants.  So are potential recipients of the Social Relief Grant of 350 Rand that the government has instituted for those who do not qualify for UIF grants. The facilities for registration, both the cellular phone number and email address do not work. As a result, nobody has been able to register even though the distribution of the fund commenced on the 15th May.

All this of course adds to numerous people who are without food, such as children who would under normal circumstances be fed at school. The undocumented refugees in the country are not being catered for in the distribution of food and yet they are still not allowed to work. If truth be told many people in South Africa will not die of COVID-19 but hunger. I know this because I live on the street corner and some people have rang my doorbell to ask for something to eat because they were about to die of hunger – it is real.

Despite this pain of hunger, in eight provinces some ANC counsellors are caught stealing the very food parcels which are meant to be freely given to the poorest of the poor. Shamefully no disciplinary action has been taken against them. Already three deaths have been reported of pensioners dying while waiting in queues for their pension, in Hammarsdale – KZN, Pimville – Soweto and Jakes Gerwel Drive in Cape Town.  One death is too many, and this must stop.

The Government must stop talking and act to save lives instead of thinking out loud and much talk about saving the economy. In such unprecedented times decisive leadership is critical.