#6Rand: When food is the issue

Today is the UN's World Food Day. Nearly a billion people worldwide and 14-million in South Africa go to bed hungry. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Today is the UN's World Food Day. Nearly a billion people worldwide and 14-million in South Africa go to bed hungry. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

#6Rand is a symbolic campaign that Mail & Guardian launched this week after years of all our reporters touching on aspects of poverty and food security. Also, today is the UN’s World Food Day, and nearly a billion people worldwide and 14-million in South Africa go to bed hungry.

We took the inspiration for this number from a family of four – twin sisters, each with a child – who live outside Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. They do odd jobs.
And when they have work, they buy four potatoes and a cup of rice with the R6 that they have. This covers their day’s food. 

When the twins do not have R6, they share a white bread loaf and sugary water. This meal is quite common and is called the “poppie water diet” in the area. A large number of South Africans do not have access to enough food because of their economic circumstances. And when they do have food, it is not nutritious. This is the case for 14-million South Africans and the 2012 General Household Survey states that many do not know where their next meal is coming from. 

Our official unemployment rate of 25% and the high cost of healthy food mean that people in this country are starving. Various branches of government are dealing with this. The department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries has a Food Security Policy. But even this admits that it would be good to have an Act to unify efforts.

Because there is not a single guiding entity and Act, food becomes an issue that gets lost in the bureaucracy that bedevils governance in this country.  

So today we are living off R6 for the whole day. All we want to do is make you aware. You might already be aware. You might not. But just by talking about what you eat and how much you spend, we are hoping a ripple effect occurs. Let’s all start talking about food. We have been doing it since Monday. Our newsroom has been buzzing with conversations of what the ground rules are and how we can manage to live off R6 worth of food. 

R6 challenge: What to do
I am part of a “family unit”, where four of us have pooled our R6 to get rice and a few bits to add to it. This gives us a bit more purchasing power. The shopping was done in Johannesburg’s city centre where you can buy single items of food at cheaper prices than supermarkets. 

My other colleagues might try to buy single units of items. A banana on the street near the M&G’s offices is R2. This seems like an impossibly expensive option.

To get rice or other staples, we figure people can take from their larder on these items.

There is also the option of not eating, since Oxfam’s research this week says 17% of South Africans are forced to skip food for a day or more to make the month.  

We’re hoping that the #6Rand day is run on a trust system. Sure, anyone can stuff their faces before work and come in, pretending to have some solidarity, but if there is cheating, that is a conscious choice.

Water is a yes. According to the water department, a third of South Africans do not have water flowing from their taps. They have to buy water from an already constricted budget. But in Johannesburg most people have clean water, so water is free. 

Coffee and tea is a no. This is pretty hard at the M&G because Thursday is its newspaper deadline day and many of my colleagues rely on caffeine. But that is a luxury and this exercise is about having a tiny feel of what life is like for one in four South Africans. 

Cigarettes. We have not said no. But that is up for people to decide on their own. This is no dictatorship, however it is a luxury.

If you have any other questions please email us, respond to this article, or send @mailandguardian or @siphomcd a tweet. We are also figuring this out as we go along.

Sipho Kings

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