Date: Wednesday, 12th September 2018
Department of Health: Food Control
Civitas Building (South Tower)
Cnr Struben and Andries Streets
Private Bag X828
I am compelled to address this letter to you on behalf of the African Democratic Change (ADeC) and fellow South Africans affected by the recent lootings in our townships as a result of “expired foods”. Underpinned by socio-economic conflicts within our society, these recent events clearly demonstrate the failings of the department of health under which your unit is managed.
As a fellow servant of our great nation, I am sure you can attest to our country’s resilience in time of turmoil. However, twenty-four years into our democracy, South Africans struggling to cope within a battered economy are left frustrated and wanting. ADeC shares this frustration and whilst we will never condone violence, we acknowledge that the recent acts of looting are a call for government’s intervention into the health and well-being of its people – particularly the poor.
It is not news to your department that concerns were raised by members of various communities in different provinces around South Africa on the issues of expired food as well generally unwholesome food products that are being sold in Spaza shops in our townships. I would give you credit that in some communities there were visibility in that some of these Spaza shops were closed and other shops were fined between R500.00 and R2 500.00.
However, some of the pertinent questions that comes in the wake of the events of the last week are as follows: Do you believe the Department of Health could have done more to prevent lootings which resulted in the deaths of both South Africans and foreign nationals? What measures does the Department have in place to address the issue of expired foods and ensuring that community’s voices are heard? Is the department visible enough in these troubled spots and ensuring that relevant actions will being taken against those responsible for health violations?
The answers to these questions are obvious based on the sad consequences of these protests. Rhetorics and half-thought up reactive measures does not solve the problem. It only takes a spark to start a blaze, likewise when communities are suffering both financially and psychologically, it can lead to nationwide devastation as we have already witnessed. We saw it during the fight against Apartheid, during the 2008 Xenophobic attacks against foreigners and recently the lootings over “expired goods”. It pains me to think of the lives that could have been saved if only the Department of Health could have acted sooner. How do you explain to the four motherless children in Tshepisong that their mother died during a senseless looting? She herself a bystander only in the area to collect her children from school. I purposefully say “senseless” because how does one claim that groceries from Spaza shops are fake only to loot and possibly resell or consume the very same goods they want removed? As your people, we want to see an implementation of strategies thatprevents a repeat of these incidents. How do we prevent the recurrence of this sort of tragic blemish that not only affects innocent South Africans but also tarnishes our image with the rest of the world?
We have seen shocking footage on social media of fake foods, conflicting statements from Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on the validity of these claims and an inquiry from the South African Human Rights Commission. It’s no wonder the people are angry and confused. These incidents began with community members raising issues and being ignored by the very same government they have elected into power. Coupled with late response (and in some places no response at all) has forced individuals to take the law into their hands and allowed certain elements in our communities to hijack these protests resulting in the tragedies we are faced with today.
You can make a difference to change the poisonous trajectory our societies are currently on. I urge your Department to articulate pro-active measures that responds promptly to such health alerts and not allow it to fester and become issues that are easily exploited by nefarious elements. If you fail to act, this disease of poor, angry and ignored communities will spread. I leave you with the following adapted quote: “In the absence of leadership, society stands still. Chaos reigns supreme.”