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RESIDENTS MADE TO PAY E50 FOR ‘FREE FOOD’

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NHLANGANO – Hordes still do not know where their next meal will be coming from, despite assurance by the NDMA that free food will be distributed.


This is particularly because of allegations that some residents of certain communities have been made to pay with their toil and sweat for inclusion on the list of beneficiaries for the ‘free food’ to be distributed among communities hard hit by hunger.


Following the disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, government, with the aid of donors, has come up with a plan to meet halfway thousands of citizens who have been left frustrated without employment, money and food to eat.
Over 300 000 people have been earmarked by government to benefit from the food relief aid.


However, cracks have begun to emerge in the envisaged distribution, after some politicians threatened to hijack the whole process while others started to fight among themselves on who should be identifying the needy and vulnerable beneficiaries.


Astonished


This somehow left government astonished and fumbling how it intended to run the identification of people to benefit from the food aid. The intention was to run the process in a smooth way, which could not disadvantage the same targeted citizens. Most communities reportedly left the identification process to constituency councillors (bucopho), with the assistance of either local rural health motivators or volunteers from humanitarian organisations who have already been in the business of distributing food.


Even then, the system has been susceptible to exploitation by those ‘trusted’ community members. It has transpired that some unscrupulous individuals have seen a business opportunity in the identification process, turning the whole thing into some kind of a franchise for selling what is meant to be free food.


Residents in one area around the Shiselweni Region for instance, have accused some people of forcing them to fork out an upfront payment of E50, in order to secure space on the list earmarked for the free food to be distributed by the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) to keep hunger at bay during the coronavirus lockdown period.


Unfortunately, it was reported that in most cases they do so without caring where the targeted individuals would be getting that kind of money from, and as a result people are complaining that a lot of deserving folks have been left out of the list simply because they did not have the money to pay. A concerned resident said the community was getting worried because it was the hungriest of residents who were being left out of the beneficiaries’ list.


“I know of some families who have no cash and nothing to eat. They were left out after they could not pay the required money,” disclosed a resident.


Allegations


The area’s constituency councillor did not want to commit on the allegations about people being made to pay in order to be included on the list of beneficiaries, when approached by this publication yesterday.


“Let me choose to be neutral because I was not directly involved in that exercise, but I haven’t heard anything about it,” he said.
However, he confirmed that the identification exercise left out dozens of hungry residents.


He conceded though that the people involved faced challenges getting some of the needy community members on board because they were only limited to a certain figure.


“So far, I have only received information that some people had to be deleted from the list because there were more deserving individuals. We noted that there are those people who are hungry because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak, who otherwise under normal circumstances afford to get themselves some food. Then there are those who just do not have any means of survival, because they are either disabled or unemployed.


Priority


“I gathered that priority was given to the latter group but some of them were still left out,” explained the constituency councillor.
The concerned bucopho lamented the fact that some households were left with virtually nothing to eat. He said even the few who had money could not buy the food because it was difficult to get to town to make the necessary purchases.


“The local shops have only empty shelves to offer. People who manage to get to town also pay high fares, and end up getting little food supplies,” he said.


This publication also gathered that the issue of the food aid has become a divisive one in the community, with people suspecting there could be misappropriation of the food when it was eventually delivered.


“It is difficult to talk about the food issue because we are not certain who will eventually get the assistance. I am sad to say government is being prevented from feeding the hungriest in the community because some people are manipulating the system,” complained another resident.


When approached for comment, NDMA Communications Manager Wandile Mavuso said his office was yet to receive the complaints relating to the beneficiaries’ identification process.


“We haven’t received any of such reports yet. What we know is that there was an ongoing identification process but no one, so far, has come up to complain,” he said.

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