The Swaziland (eSwatini) Government’s plan to feed 300,000 people during the present coronavirus lockdown is in shambles.
On 22 April 2020, Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini announced they would be fed within 14 days. That deadline was reached on Wednesday (6 May 2020) and no food has been delivered via the government scheme.
Instead there has been turmoil in parliament. The House of Assembly refused to back a plan from the Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku to send destitute people money rather than food.
Then it was revealed that the government had no plan to feed people living in towns and cities.
Then there was chaos across the kingdom as people who tried to register for food aid were turned away.
The latest twist was a report that some people were being charged E50 to have their names put on the registration list. In normal times about seven in ten of the population live on incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 (E37) a day.
Swaziland has been in partial lockdown since 27 March with only essential businesses allowed to operate, travel severely restricted and people banned from meeting in groups of more than 20. Almost as soon as the lockdown started reports circulated of people unable to feed themselves because they no longer had incomes.
In response Ambrose Dlamini announced a government food aid scheme. He said it would, ‘Provide food assistance to the most vulnerable of our society that have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The food assistance will benefit over 300,000 individuals from 63,000 households across all four regions of the Kingdom.’ The total population of Swaziland is about 1.3 million.
It was one of several pledges the Prime Minister made on 22 April that he said would be fulfilled over the coming two weeks.
Almost immediately, the Swazi House of Assembly rejected a plan put forward by Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku to send people money instead of food.
The plan was to spend about E270 million (US$14 million) with government distributing about E45 million per month to 301,762 people across the kingdom.
Masuku said the scheme would give people the choice on what food to buy and stop them gathering together to receive parcels and risk catching coronavirus (COVID-19). He said it would also save on the cost of delivering food.
A number of members of parliament thought the plan was open to corruption and money might not be used for the intended purpose of buying food.
Then, Wandile Mavuso, spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Agency (MNDA), which is organising the food relief, confirmed that people in urban areas would not get food. He explained on state radio that the government was directing its efforts only to rural areas.
He said the government would only work in places where there were ‘local structures’ in place. This would include chiefs and those who worked with chiefs. Mavuso said this would ensure that ‘deserving beneficiaries’ were identified.
Even without a definite plan for food distribution in place, the NDMA set about registering the names of people wanting to apply for aid. This descended into chaos as hundreds of people ignored social distancing guidelines and queued to register.
The Sunday Observer reported 200 residents of Msunduza crammed an assembly point. It said, ‘Despite having been registered by their health motivators, the residents had to be re-registered by the Food Security Consortium coordinated by the NDMA.’
It added, the Food Security Consortium refused to register the residents because of their numbers and they did not maintain social distancing.
Residents of Msunduza ignore social distancing guidelines to queue to register for food aid. Picture: eSwatini Observer
On Tuesday (5 May 2020), the Times of eSwatini reported politicians were ‘fighting’ with the NDMA over who should register people. NDMA Chief Executive Officer Russell Dlamini said there was confusion about who should make the assessment of a person’s eligibility.
On Wednesday the Times reported that some people in the Shiselweni region of Swaziland were being forced to pay E50 before they could register for food aid. It reported, ‘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.’
The NDMA said it had not received reports about this.
On Tuesday NDMA Chief Executive Russell Dlamini announced distribution of food parcels would start on Friday (8 May 2020) in two areas of Swaziland but he would not name them.
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