It is very scary how when one speaks of hunger and poverty, many South Africans seem to believe the problem is ‘elsewhere’- with some even referring to countries such as Somalia and Ethiopia when the topic is brought up. Reality is, even here in our very own land- a country in which the right to life, food, health and water are enshrined in the highest law of the land- many still live below the poverty line and chronic hunger lurks amongst us.
In November 2011, four children died, taking with them whatever potential they carried. These children were from Verdwaal in the North-West province of South Africa- a country barely, if ever associated with hunger. Yet, post-mortem results confirmed that the children, aged 9, 7, 6 and 2 years old respectively, died of starvation and dehydration- after they walked for about 10km-14km looking for their mother to give them food.
Following the tragedy, Gift of the Givers was quick to take action. On the 22nd November 2011, they arrived in Verdwaal “with 600 food parcels, 1500 bottles of 500ml water, 300 blankets, 2000 sweet packs (non-nutritious but emotionally exhilarating for children) and 600 x 1kg washing powder to a community, that shockingly had nothing. The teams returned on 29 November 2011 and fed 3000 “wet” meals to the community” (See http://www.giftofthegivers.org/death-in-itsoseng/hunger-in-verdwaal.html). The figure is said to have doubled to 6000 on the 30th November 2011. The North-West Provincial government too responded, donating food parcels to the impoverished community. Despite the generosity shown to the community of Verdwaal, a sustainable solution to the problem is needed to ensure that the tragedy never again happens- a solution aimed at ensuring that each family is self-reliant, because aid can only last for so long.
As sad as I find it that it took the needless loss of life to achieve this, I do appreciate how hunger in South Africa was put under the spotlight in a way we have never seen before. Various independent newspapers and online publications reported it; the DA released a statement on the matter and it was shared quite extensively on social networks- with many expressing shock that this could happen in our country. Broadcast media too covered it and on the 19th January 2012, it even made it to Special Assignment- a relatively popular weekly South African documentary.
This extensive coverage revealed that, almost the entire community of more than 4 000 people was undocumented, leaving them unable to access services such as social grants– a shocking, but not unique situation in this beautiful land of ours.
Despite my great joy at having this burning topic so well covered and having fellow South Africans brought face to face with the reality faced by many in our country, I am concerned about how the coverage was just stopped abruptly- which some people may interpret to mean that the tragic deaths of these children was in fact a once-off affair, rather than the reality that it is. It was reported that the “South African Social Security Agency spokesman Smangaliso Semeleni said they would ensure that every individual in Verdwaal had an identity document, which would allow them to access social grants, within two weeks” and yet we do not know if this was done, because those who reported on the matter seem to have vanished- not bothering with follow-ups nor with holding those who made promises just after the tragedy accountable. As is, most South Africans who had been following the story have no idea if any real change, apart from talk was made in the village, something which is unforgivable, especially considering the functions of the media in a democratic state. No-one who covered the matter, bothered to identify other villages- some not even too far from Verdwaal facing the same challenges to ensure that we are all aware that for some, starvation is a part of their daily lives.
Let my pointing out of the failures of the media not be seen as me holding them solely responsible for this tragedy, because it is our collective selves to blame. If one digs beyond the surface of these children dying of hunger and dehydration, one will find the truth- that these four children did in fact not starve to death, but were actually murdered. We murdered them together, with indifference being our weapon, because if each of us raised our voice at injustice; if each of us worked to empower at least one other person and if each of us made kindness and humanity a part of our daily lives- these children would still be alive today and able to contribute in creating a better future for our country…