Amid the coronavirus pandemic which has caused countries around the world to impose lockdown measures, the Swaziland (Eswatini) government has said it will not send food to the vulnerable and destitute in the country.
This decision comes despite the main commercial city in the kingdom being locked down by the army and police, surrounded by roadblocks. So far, thousands of the 110,000 population have lost their jobs as a result of the lockdown, forcing several others to stay indoors.
The lockdown started on Monday, April 27, and is expected to last at least two weeks. Security services would be visiting business outlets to ensure that those prohibited from operating are closed and those allowed to open fully comply with guidelines set out by the Ministry of Health.
On April 22, 2020, the Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini announced that the government would feed over 300,000 people from 63,000 households across all four regions of the kingdom. The total population of the country is about 1.3 million.
Despite the Minister’s pledge to assist the citizens within two weeks, the National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Wandile Mavuso confirmed that people in urban areas could not get food from the government.
According to the spokesman, at a critical time like this, vendors who earned their living through selling fruits and vegetables on the streets, car wash employees who earned E10 per car, dry cleaners employees, hair-dressers and salon owners, those employed at cellphone shops, hotels, restaurants and security guards, among others, had no income and could not get food. A study shows that most of these people are tenants on the outskirts of town and currently have other sources of income.
Mavuso added that the government only worked in places where there were local structures in place. This includes chiefs and those who worked with chiefs. He said that this would ensure that deserving beneficiaries were identified.
Since the Prime Minister made his pledge to feed 300,000 people, the Swazi House of Assembly rejected a plan put forward by Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku to send people money instead of food. This would involve spending about E270 million ($14 million) with the government distributing E45 million monthly to 301,762 people across the kingdom.
More so, Mosaku said the scheme will allow people the choice of what food to buy and stop them from gathering together to receive parcels and also reduce the risk to be infected with the coronavirus. He stated that it would save costs on delivery.
Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that malnutrition in Eswatini is set to rise such that nearly a quarter of the total population will need help getting food, of which 300,000 people will be affected. “The present coronavirus crisis would increase the numbers in danger, but before the pandemic, an estimated 232,000 people needed help,” the United Nations’ agency said.
By Ahmed Iyanda.