Black Sash Media Statements

Black Sash condemns abuse of food vouchers by political parties - 11 March 09

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Black Sash wishes to express its shock and dismay following a stampede for food vouchers in KwaZulu Natal, which allegedly led to the death of a 2-year-old child. According to reports, a political party bussed in more than 2000 destitute people to the Social Development Department Offices in Estcourt with the promise of food vouchers and a free breakfast. Witnesses say the stampede for the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) vouchers led to the death of the child. Police are investigating the incident. 

The Black Sash strongly condemns the use of SRD vouchers by political parties to secure votes ahead of the April elections – in our view, it is one of the lowest, most unscrupulous forms of electioneering, especially when it leads to a scramble for food and the death of vulnerable people in need. 

The Black Sash would like to express its deep concern around the management of the large (three times the normal annual allocation), additional SRD allocation of R500 million announced late last year, as well as the the controversial regulations issued in January this year to govern its disbursement.  

While we acknowledge that the funding was a response to the calls by civil society to support people struggling with increased food prices and job losses in the wake of the global economic meltdown, we cannot support the requirement to distribute the monies within such a short time period – 4 months – and just before our general elections. Neither the timeframe nor the budget allocations have allowed for proper administrative mechanisms to be put in place, as provided within the Social Assistance Act.  

The Black Sash has been alarmed by the increasing number of reports in recent weeks from our regional offices of conflict and chaos arising from Social Relief of Distress disbursements. Given the competition for scarce resources and the high levels of poverty in our communities, it is imperative that poverty relief measures are not implemented in a manner that causes division and tensions in communities or that leave the door open for political parties to use vulnerable and desperate people to improve their political fortunes.  

The Black Sash therefore calls on all political parties to observe and ensure compliance to the Electoral Code of Conduct (which they signed in Midrand today) that says, “No person may induce or reward any person to vote or not to vote in any particular way".  Representatives or members that violate this code should be disciplined by their party and disqualified from holding positions within their structures.  

The Black Sash also calls for our government to take responsibility for the consequences of poor and hasty policy decisions and to reassure us that Social Relief of Distress will be carefully and responsibly rolled out in the future, with accountable mechanisms and sustained and sufficient funding.