Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation on 01/02/2024 

In a report on child malnutrition, the South African Human Rights Commission (“SAHRC”) stated that the situation in the Eastern Cape was of “utmost urgency”. It found that a substantial proportion of the Eastern Cape’s children were suffering from various forms of malnutrition and that the multiple State interventions by various government departments and agencies were uncoordinated and, thus, ineffective.

The SAHRC’s data revealed that between April 2021 and March 2022, in the province, 1087 children suffered from severe acute malnutrition (children weigh less than 60% of their recommended weight), with 116 having died as a result. It also found that the province’s children had a 27% rate of impaired growth and development (“stunting rate”). 

Moreover, the inquiry revealed the systemic issues contributing to the crisis. The inadequacy of the Child Support Grant (“CSG”) at R510 per month exacerbates food insecurity, failing to meet the nutritional needs of children when compared to the R624 food poverty line in South Africa. 

The disparity between the grant and the poverty line is most acute in the Eastern Cape, where child food poverty rates are the highest nationwide. The declining uptake of the CSG, particularly among children aged 0 to 5 years and 6 to 11 years, is a result of difficulties in birth registration and thus, access to the grant for children without birth certificates, further compounds the challenge.

This was in a report dated August 2022 (which was noted by the Eastern Cape Provincial Government). The provincial government stated that, although malnutrition levels in the province remain very high, there has been a 4,8% drop in the percentage of children dying from severe acute malnutrition – namely from 11.8% in the 2017/18 financial year to 7% in 2022/2023.

However, these numbers are set to rise in 2024, with the Department of Social Development (DSD) having now cut back spending on food parcels, despite the SAHRC’s calls for the hunger crisis to be declared a disaster (in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002). The nearly R500 million in underspending by the DSD over the past three years underscores the systemic inefficiencies and challenges in resource allocation and utilisation.

Section 27 of the Constitution guarantees that everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food, yet, in the Eastern Cape children are dying from hunger. The FW de Klerk Foundation calls for the State to follow the SAHRC’s specific, targeted recommendations for various departments, organisations, and government bodies to comprehensively address this crisis. 

These recommendations include the DSD collaborating with the Department of Home Affairs to explore launching a registration campaign targeting unregistered children, ensuring their eligibility for social assistance programs, such as the Child Support Grant (which should be increased to above the food poverty line). The Department of Basic Education should extend the National School Nutrition Program to Early Childhood Development (“ECD”) centres and consider providing meals during weekends and school holidays. In addition, the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform should help small-scale farmers through access to resources and linkages to markets.

The biggest challenge small-scale and commercial farmers face is access to appropriate and affordable financing. The Landbank has a critical role to play in providing patient capital and ensuring that farmers are supported with mentors, market access, biosecurity, crop insurance and all the technological advances that help modern-day farming to be competitive. Without financing and a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation support system, many farmers will not be able to remain viable. Farming is a high-risk venture and Government support, whether in the form of fuel subsidies, infrastructure maintenance such as roads and harbours, veterinarian services, or opening up of markets, is of critical importance.