South Africa: Migrants Excluded From Government Food Aid
Source: All Africa, 13/05/2020
When she travelled to South Africa from Zimbabwe at the behest of
her father-in-law in May last year, the 25-year-old thought she
would be able to build a better life. But she`s struggled to find
work in Johannesburg because of a visual impairment.
Munyanyiwa rents a room in a derelict building in Doornfontein.
There she found a community of other migrants, many of them also
living with disabilities. Residents share one tap and the only
toilets they have access to are public ones across the street that
are locked at night. Recently, the electricity has been cut off at
The residents relied on the little money they earned while begging
on the streets of Johannesburg. But for the past seven weeks this
community has seen the little income they earned dry up, making it
nearly impossible to buy food. As the three-week hard lockdown
turned into five weeks, Munyanyiwa and the other migrants were
confined to their small, dark rooms.
Even as the lockdown eased into level four, opportunities to earn
money through begging in Johannesburg did not return.
`We are struggling with food and clothes. Winter is coming, and we
don`t have any clothes,` she says. `We are just going hungry and
struggling. I still have some mielie meal, but we don`t get any
nutritious food like fruit or veggies.`
John Zindandi, 38, is blind and has been living in the building
since 2010. He moved there after living in the Central Methodist
Church in the Johannesburg CBD after the 2008 xenophobic attacks.
`I normally survive through begging. These days are tough, man.
We`re not allowed to move around. It`s very tough. We don`t have
anything, and we don`t have anybody helping us,` he says. `We are
very hungry. In this building, we have over 50 people who are
blind. We have nobody caring for us. We are just hearing that
people are getting help in other places like Yeoville.`
Like Munyanyiwa, Zindandi says he has mostly been eating once a
Munyanyiwa and Zindandi are just two of the millions of people in
South Africa who have seen their incomes all but disappear during
the lockdown, making it harder to buy food. But, as migrants, they
have been excluded from the government`s food relief programmes.
Munyanyiwa says she has no idea where to even apply for any relief
and has been relying on the generosity of a few strangers who have
In a joint statement, the Centre for Human Rights at the
University of Pretoria and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at
Wits University expressed their concerns about the exclusion of
migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the government`s
coronavirus relief schemes.
The legal centres said they were worried about the government`s
insistence that applicants for food aid need ID numbers and that
citizens are prioritised. `We reaffirm that this is not a time to
exclude certain populations within society, neither is it a time
to reinforce negative attitudes against non-nationals,` the
Tshepo Madlingozi, director of the Centre for Applied Legal
Studies, says: `It is important that the government understands
that this is not a time to encourage or perpetuate any form of
intolerance. Neither will there ever be a time to do so. As such,
the government, through the Department of Home Affairs, should
explicitly give directions for the protection of asylum seekers in
In a letter to the presidency and a number of government
departments, Thifulufheli Sinthumule, the director of the
Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (Cormsa),
says the pandemic and the lockdown has exposed historic inequality
and levels of poverty in South Africa.
`Without doubt, the lockdown has impacted and disadvantaged all
people living in South Africa, irrespective of one`s nationality
or current documentation status in the country. One thing we know
is that Covid-19 does not discriminate and neither should the
government`s response to alleviate and address its social and
economic consequences,` Sinthumule writes.
The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town warns that excluding documented
and undocumented migrants from food relief may open them up to
further exploitation and place them at risk of attempting to
unlawfully cross the border to return to their countries of
There have been reports of migrant communities nearing starvation
elsewhere in South Africa. Health-E News reported that about 600
Zimbabweans living near Louis Trichardt in Limpopo had run out of
food because they were unable to earn a living.
Joseph Maposa, a representative of the Zimbabwean community, told
Health-E News: `We are so many [Zimbabweans] here and most of us
were surviving through part-time jobs such as being house maids,
selling various items on the streets, running salons and barber
shops, and construction work but due to the lockdown, which we
also support, everything has stopped and most of us have run out
In Zeerust in the North West, Congolese Solidarity Campaign
representative Shauri Jonathan Mwenemwitu says Congolese migrants
and refugees in the small town are helpless as hunger sets in. `It
is very hard. We have no income and no food. It is very hard. Now
we are facing hunger, and we don`t have any help.`
Acting MEC for Social Development in Gauteng Panyaza Lesufi says
the department is not discriminating against migrants, refugees
and asylum seekers when it insists on people needing to be
`Our approach is simple. Whoever is appropriately documented to be
inside the country will get support, and if people are not
documented to be in the country, it`s unfortunate. We will request
them to deal with that aspect so that they can be in a queue. We
are not discriminating,` he says.
In a speech on 29 April 2020, Minister of Social Development
Lindiwe Zulu clarified the department`s stance, saying it would be
`intensifying` its `hunger-targeting food and nutrition
distribution programmes` but there was no mention of migrants in
Zulu reiterated that refugees qualified for the special Covid-19
social relief distress grant, but would be required to be
registered with home affairs.
Alana Potter, the director of research and advocacy at the Socio-
Economic Rights Institute (Seri), says it is unlawful,
discriminatory and inhumane to exclude migrants and undocumented
migrants from food relief according to Section 27 (1) (b) of the
`South Africa has a long history of using narrow qualifying
criteria and onerous registration processes (eg housing lists and
indigent registration) as a way to target social benefits,` she
`Now that we`re in a crisis, these well-worn methods are the very
fault lines used to distribute food and other forms of relief.
Indigent registration processes required for people to access free
basic services and social grants are onerous, exclusionary and
come at high social, financial and economic cost to the poor.`
Hunger and evictions
Malawians Christoph Kenneth, 38, and his wife, Joyce, 29, have
both seen their incomes disappear as they have been unable to go
to work for nearly two months. Joyce, who usually works as a
domestic worker, has been selling tomatoes in the corridor outside
the room they rent in a building in Hillbrow.
She says it`s become increasingly difficult for the family to buy
food and other essentials including nappies for their six-month-
old son, Vincent.
`It`s not been easy. It`s been very hard. There are many people
selling tomatoes or other vegetables in the building so I`m not
making a lot of money,` she says.
Kenneth adds: `Life now is very hard. If I get R5, I will try and
buy two nappies. We are just trying to manage.`
He says the family went from having three meals every day that
included tea, sugar and fresh vegetables, to mostly surviving on
one meal of mainly pap. `It`s very stressful. I`m lying at night
thinking how I`m going to feed my baby, what I`m going to eat. It
is very stressful. You can`t guarantee anything. We are just
hoping this disease can come under control. We are hoping to do
some work soon because I don`t know how I`m going to survive,` he
Kenneth says they used to send money back home to family in
Malawi, but that`s mostly stopped. They have already spent the
little savings the family had on food. `They are saying everyone,
even those who are undocumented [can register for food aid]. I
want to register but I don`t know where to go or how to do it. If
someone can just tell us,` he says.
While Kenneth and his wife have been lucky to negotiate rent
payments with their landlord, other migrants have been forced out
of their homes despite a nationwide moratorium on evictions.
Last week, Mohammed Foster, 26, and his wife, Jane Afia, 19, who
is eight-months pregnant, were evicted from their apartment in the
Johannesburg CBD along with the other people in the apartment.
`There is nowhere for us to go. We can`t find a new place now in
lockdown. Where are we going to sleep? My wife is pregnant. I
don`t know what to do,` Foster says. `We can`t sleep outside.
Maybe we will go to the police station and find a place to sleep
there. This is a big problem. I am very stressed. I don`t know
what I`m going to do.`
The young family eventually found a place to sleep with friends in
Germiston, east of Johannesburg, while the other people who shared
the apartment had to make their own arrangements.
The caretaker of the building, who didn`t want to give his name,
says the owners of the building told him to evict Foster and the
other people in the apartment after they failed to pay rent. He
concedes it `wasn`t fair or right` but insists that Foster and the
other people who shared that apartment were warned.