By Carien du Plessis and Yolandi Groenewald
City Press. 5 January 2014.
As elections draw near, ‘food relief’ budgets swell in ANC problem provinces.
Government’s budget for food parcels and vouchers has received a massive boost in the run-up to this year’s general election.
The budget is now almost double what it usually is in a non-election year after an extra R200 million was allocated for social relief in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s appropriations budget in October.
This sum was added to the R219 million budget that had been completely spent by the end of that month.
This comes on top of circumstantial evidence that government has used food distribution in municipalities in which the ANC was in danger of losing control to sweeten voters in favour of the governing party.
The department has until March to spend the money.
The election campaign kicks off in earnest this week with the launch of the ANC election manifesto in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, on Saturday.
This year’s general election is expected to be the most fiercely contested since 1994.
The massive increase in this form of help for the poor has been the trend in every general election since 2004, when R388 million was allocated to provinces for the preceding two years for emergency food relief.
In 2005, approximately the same amount was allocated in the form of an integrated social development grant.
Before the 2009 elections – in the 2008 appropriations budget vote – an extra R500 million was allocated to the social relief of distress grant while the department admitted it didn’t have the administrative capacity to distribute them all.
The social development department could not provide details of where food parcels were distributed or exactly how the need was being determined, but large events at which food parcels were distributed were held in at least two municipalities where the ANC was in danger of losing wards in by-elections.
Over the past 20 months, by far the most imbizos and service delivery launches – seven in total – were held in the DA-controlled Western Cape.
But provinces – including Gauteng, which held two events; KwaZulu-Natal (four); and Eastern Cape (four) – are home to more people with inadequate or severely inadequate access to food, according to Stats SA’s 2011 General Household Survey.
Government has been accused of using food to buy votes in recent by-elections:
» In Tlokwe late last year, there was an outcry among opposition parties when Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini distributed food parcels a few days before a by-election in Ward 3, following a walkout from the party by a number of councillors.
The ANC was in danger of losing the municipality.
At the time, Dlamini said the reason for the relief efforts was that there were 17 000 child-headed households in the municipality, but later her department revealed that there were 5 681 such households in the entire North West province.
The DA has made a formal complaint to the Public Protector about what the party said amounted to vote-buying.
In by-elections held last month, the ANC regained power in Tlokwe after retaining six wards lost when their incumbent councillors left the party.
» In Oudtshoorn, Dlamini handed out food parcels and launched Project Mikondzo, a service delivery improvement initiative, on August 5, two days before crucial by-elections in three ANC wards.
The party lost one of these to the DA, which put the municipality back in the DA’s hands.
» Last month, Dlamini launched Project Mikondzo in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, where opposition to the ANC has grown and where the party has previously heavily relied on now-suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to campaign.
» In provinces where the ANC governs, the provincial government and municipalities have also increased food distribution around election time.
Mbombela executive Mayor Cathy Dlamini distributed food parcels during a community outreach event in Numbi near Hazyview late last year, where the ANC and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) battled it out for a ward.
Mayor Cathy Dlamini distributed mielie-meal, rice, canned food, ANC T-shirts and red overalls on which the words “Mayoral Imbizo” was written.
“They told people to vote for the ANC, and thereafter their convoy drove around canvassing for votes,” said EFF candidate Mxosheni Nhlabathi, who lost the election.
Mbombela spokesperson Joseph Ngala denied that the mayor was canvassing for votes, saying they also “cleaned the streets, graded roads and fixed lights”.
In nearby Sabie, where the ANC’s chief whip resigned as councillor in protest against corruption in the municipality, social development MEC Candith Mashego-Dlamini met the elderly at a stadium and donated blankets and food parcels shortly before the by-elections. Her spokesperson denied she was buying votes.
Black Sash advocacy manager Elroy Paulus said: “We are deeply concerned about the large increase of funding for social relief in the 12 months prior to general elections.”
He said social relief was “a bridging mechanism for families and individuals who have temporarily fallen on hard times, or who are waiting for grants or other forms of social protection for which they are eligible”.
He added: “Social relief funds are designed only for temporary relief to those in dire material need. It is not a mechanism to provide security to families suffering from a long-term financial crisis, or people who are unable to access either jobs or cash support from the state.”
DA social development spokesperson Mike Waters said his party was still waiting for the Public Protector’s report.
“It is concerning that [the budget] is increasing in an election year. We can only monitor how it is being spent,” he said.
Social development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the funds were distributed in accordance with the Social Assistance Act.
“This means that for every family assisted, there is an application form and the relief must be given only to families who meet the legislated criteria,” she said.
“It is a sad reflection on our society if the feeling is that people can be bought with a food parcel which amounts to R1 200,” she said.
ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza referred questions about the food budget increase to government, saying the ANC was not involved in drafting the budget.
In 2012/13, government’s Zero Hunger project saw 16 108 food parcels worth R18.3 million distributed in some of the country’s poorest areas.
Limited figures the social development department has released show that it distributed 66 368 food parcels valued at just under R80 million in six provinces between February and August last year.
Food relief budget – food parcels, vouchers or cash grants:
» 2008: an extra R500 million in the appropriations budget for social relief of distress
» 2009: R165 million
» 2010: R173 million, R52 million of which came from the previous year during which it was not spent
» 2011: R118 million
» 2012: R255 million
» 2013: R419 million
– Additional reporting Sizwe sama Yende