‘I wish my family would get sick and hospitalised so we could ...

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‘I wish my family would get sick and hospitalised so we could eat’

The Mpumalanga department of social development says it has been overwhelmed by calls for food relief

Mandla Khoza
Agnes Shabangu’s children caught fish from a nearby river to feed the hungry family.
DESPERATE Agnes Shabangu’s children caught fish from a nearby river to feed the hungry family.
Image: Mandla Khoza

A mother who lost her income due to lockdown says she is so desperate she wishes her family would contract Covid-19 so they are hospitalised and get fed every day.

Agnes Shabangu, 45, from Ntimba village, outside Malalane, told Times Select’s sister publication, Sowetan, that her employer told her she would not get paid during lockdown because she was not working.

Shabangu is a farmworker, earning R3,000 a month.

She said her children, the youngest of whom is 15, are now forced to go fishing in a river about 2km from home for them to eat.

Agnes Shabangu with her children.
no work, no pay Agnes Shabangu with her children.
Image: Mandla Khoza

The department of social development in Mpumalanga called on community members who need food to contact it for help, but Shabangu has not been able to do so because of the high volume of calls from people seeking relief.

“I don’t know what to do. The food I bought when I got paid last month is finished. They gave us numbers to call for food relief, but those numbers are always engaged. I’ve sent them a ‘Please Call Me’ message, but they don’t call.

“When I raised my frustration, my children left, saying they were going fishing. They are back with fish and at least tonight we are going to eat. Even those who are testing people did not come here. Maybe if we test positive, they will take us to a health facility. We will be sick, but [at least we will be] eating [rather] than dying of hunger here at home,” said Shabangu.

When I raised my frustration, my children left, saying they are going fishing. They are back with fish and at least tonight we are going to eat.
Agnes Shabangu
Agnes Shabangu’s children wash the fish they caught to feed the family.
small mercies Agnes Shabangu’s children wash the fish they caught to feed the family.
Image: Mandla Khoza

Spokesperson for the department of social development Comfort Ngobe said they were overwhelmed by the number of calls from people requiring assistance.

“We always had people on our database, but during lockdown there are more numbers coming in. We are receiving about 300 calls a day from people requesting food relief. We are getting to them and there are more who are in need.

“We would like people to please not abuse the [help] lines ... because some people get screened and we find out they are capable of buying food.

“However, for those [struggling] to get food relief, we have added numbers for them to call. We have five numbers now to try to service our people,” said Ngobe.

He said the department would attempt to assist Shabangu’s family.

South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) spokesperson Senzeni Ngubeni said: “As Sassa, we help people who are in a disaster. Therefore, during the Covid-19 pandemic we are helping people who were employed, but are now not working and earning because of the lockdown. We don’t help people who are receiving grants because they have an income.”

* Sassa customer care call centre: 0800 60 10 11/013 754 9428/54.

* Mpumalanga social development department: 079 890 3471, 079 890 0175, 082 044 7400 and toll-free: 0800-020-4098.