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Covid-19: East London shack dwellers block streets over food vouchers

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Residents accuse councillor of nepotism

Photo of community member standing around during a meeting
Residents of Eluxolweni informal settlement near Mdantsane, East London protested for a fifth day on Tuesday after the ward councillor failed to arrive for a meeting to discuss food voucher distribution in the area. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik
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Residents of Eluxolweni informal settlement near Mdantsane, East London took to the streets for the fifth day on Tuesday in protest at the distribution of food vouchers in the area.

They are demanding that Ward 17 Councillor Phumla Yenana explain why only some people in the area received municipal food vouchers for Covid-19 relief. They believe that Yenana and their Ward Committee member Fumanekile Mzamo are giving the vouchers to friends and family.

The protest started on Friday with residents blocking the busy N2 near Mount Ruth with burning tyres. Since Saturday they have been using charred rubble and large stones to block roads surrounding the settlement.

The vouchers are part of the Buffalo City Metro Municipality’s R30 million donation that aims to assist 40,000 households across 50 wards. Each ward is meant to cater for about 800 households.

Residents told GroundUp that only six of the 80 people from the settlement who qualified for the vouchers received one. They said attempts to question Yenana about the issue were unsuccessful.

They said a community meeting was held two weeks ago but Yenana did not attend. On Friday, another meeting was called which Mzamo and Yenana were expected to attend. But neither arrived.

When contacted, Mzamo who lives in the area told residents that he did not attend in order to adhere to lockdown regulations. Yenana did not answer their calls, they said.

Community leader Zakhele Blom said residents were not happy with the procedure Yenana followed when she distributed food vouchers. He said when people were registered, no announcement was made in the area, and only a few people were informed.

“Some said only hawkers were supposed to benefit but there were hawkers who were sidelined while those close to ward committee members benefited. We want Yenana and Mzamo to tell us why only a few people benefited and what is going to happen to the rest of the people,” said Blom.

“It is clear to us, if only six people benefited from our area, the rest of the people were taken from other areas. The ward councillor must give us answers regarding that. We are not saying hawkers should not benefit, but at least they should also add the poor families we all know,” he said.

Resident Veliswa Van sells chicken feet, sweets and chips. She supports eight people with the little money she makes. Van said she was not registered for a food voucher despite sending her details as required. “I’m still waiting,” she said.

Mzamo confirmed to GroundUp that his wife, a hawker, had benefited from the food voucher but said that she was not the only hawker who did. He said Yenana had told him to only register hawkers but did not say how many could be registered.

“My job was to register hawkers and I did that. I only spoke with a few people who live around my house and I asked them to tell others. I didn’t go to any house. People came to my house to register,” said Mzamo.

GroundUp called Yenana on Friday. She requested that we send her questions on WhatsApp. She read the message but is yet to respond.

BCMM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said the municipality had received complaints from 14 wards over the distribution of food vouchers.

“This is the unfortunate situation where R30 million which was targeting 40,000 households is simply not sufficient. As a City we are very clear against cases of corruption and fraud. We will cooperate with police on any matter that involves such actions,” he said.

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