Since March last year, 342 children had been admitted to Dora Nginza Hospital with severe acute malnutrition, the Eastern Cape Department of Health said.
Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said they had been training nurses and health workers in this potentially fatal condition, which had led to an improved rate of case detection and referral to hospital.
Over the same period, 20 children died in Nelson Mandela Bay, including four who were brought in from other towns but died within a day of being admitted to hospital.
According to a South African Child Gauge report, this picture, however bleak, is still significantly better than it was in 2002.
“The Eastern Cape has had the largest decrease between 2002 and 2015, with reported child hunger having been reduced by 38% over 14 years,” the report said.
Since 2015, however, no significant improvement has been made.
In answer to a question in parliament, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said they had seen 8 228 children aged under five in the Eastern Cape for malnutrition over the past three years.
He said the death rate over the past few years for the province was 11.9/100 000 children. It is one of the highest in the country.
The Western Cape has the lowest death rate at 1.5 deaths/100 000.
Motsoaledi said in another reply earlier this year the government had spent close to R500-million last year to treat those with severe acute malnutrition.
“The average estimated financial cost per case is R65 826,” he said. They are in hospital on average for 30 days.
A study by Nelson Mandela University’s department of dietetics last year looked at the health of 1 562 children in the Motherwell and Ibhayi areas below the age of five.
They found that 17% of children younger than 24 months were stunted due to malnutrition, as were 10% of children between two and four and 16% of children between four and five.
Nothing will stop these women cooking up a plan
They prepare food in recycled shipping containers, a windowless room, a tiny school kitchen and a newly built soup kitchen.
They ask for electricity from their neighbours, fight off thieves and keep lists. They know everyone in their communities. They sneak an extra bite to a hungry child and when the food runs out their hearts also break.
It is a windy morning in Timothy Valley when Cynthia Grootboom and her righthand man George Makoni walk over to their soup kitchen.
Local NGO Love Story has just delivered the week’s donated groceries for the soup kitchen and bags of food for families in crisis.
“I can only give every family a bag every second week now,” Grootboom says. “There are too many.”
Makoni unlocks the door to the soup kitchen with a key he wears around his neck.
It is housed in a shipping container that once served as a bathroom.
Grootboom and Makoni turned the stalls into neat packing spaces and have made a counter for food service.
Grootboom opens the door next to the urinal.
“Here they line up,” she explains. “This is where we feed everybody who is hungry for as long as the food lasts. If the food is done, it is done.”
Next to the soup kitchen, there is a container that houses a creche.
“The social workers feed the chil- dren here,” she said.
A canvas sign reads: “You can say no to drugs.”
At the door, someone has painted the words: “Dear God. Send help from above to build our lives on Jesus.”
A few weeks ago, thieves broke into Grootboom’s soup kitchen and stole everything, including her gas stove and gas bottles.
Through Love Story donors, how- ever, she received a new stove and gas bottles.
“I said to God that morning these thieves have done me a huge favour. I now have a better stove. I don’t even need a match to light it. Thank you.”
A few kilometres along the road, just past a liquor store advertising “great specials” in neon letters, is Eagles Day Care in Kleinskool.
Housed in a windowless, makeshift wooden room, Priscilla Windvoel looks after 25 little ones.
“So many people need food, they must take turns to get a bag of groceries,” she said.
“Life is really tough at the moment.
“We give the children soup and bread every day. We have water but we get electricity from the old lady across the road.”
When Willie Buchner from Love Story arrives with the week’s groceries, Windvoel claps her hands and laughs. She chases a painfully thin dog away and opens a dilapidated gate.
“Now you must watch us cook,” she says, laughing.
On the washing line, old towels flap
in the wind and on the wall of the creche there is a faded picture of Mickey Mouse holding the letter A.
Outside the fence, a boy looks in, licking the inside of an empty packet of crisps.
The soup is cooked in another makeshift, windowless kitchen.
On a bare shelf there is half a pot of Purity baby food, an old enamel bowl and a bottle of long-life milk.
Over at Joe Slovo, Thobeka Ramaboto is cooking spinach and rice for lunch.
“Everyone comes to eat here. We keep a book of who gets the parcels so that everyone can be helped,” she said, showing us neat columns of names carefully written in blue ink.
“We eat from the garden and from the donations. We don’t see a lot of meat any more,” Ramaboto said.
In between the neat rows of beetroot and spinach, there are a few chickens.
Ramaboto is standing in for her friend who is in Dora Nginza Hospital. “There is no work here. We have to feed the people who live here,” she said.
Ten years ago, when she still lived in King William’s Town, Ruth Hani started the Nelson Mandela Community Centre.
But despite registering her NGO, nobody ever donated a thing.
“I used to take pictures to show prospective donors but now I don’t any more. Now I light a candle and I pray for the people in this community. They are very hungry.
“I have a cardiac problem. My heart has been broken by it all.
“There are no jobs here. I cook for the community from my home. They come here. They are all so hungry. If the food runs out, they shout at me.
“But you have to understand there are no jobs here and the skoppers [loan sharks] take the money.”
At the Missionvale Care Centre, “Auntie Poppie” Adams is busy in her kitchen.
On a table there are hundreds of slices of bread.
She does not talk a lot. “The kids like sandwiches with cheese and polony most,” she says. “We do our best for them every day.”
Normoyle Primary School principal Janine Barlow said they were blessed by the generosity of their donors.
“Poppie goes all-out for the children. A lot of people don’t understand the dynamics behind feeding hungry children. If they are hungry they come to find her. If she wants more food she comes to fight with me.
“If we get a good donation she is very happy. She always makes a decent pot of food for the children.”
Love Story parcels ‘like Christmas’ for destitute
When Willie Buchner drives the white Nissan bakkie along the dusty roads of Kleinskool, children run up to him in their gowns and pyjamas.
“Hier kom Krismis! Hier kom Krismis! [Here comes Christmas!]” they shout.
Once a week is “Big Drop Day”, as it is known by those at Port Elizabeth-based charity Love Story.
Food and gas are delivered to soup kitchens and 100 bags of emergency food relief given to community workers for distribution in the community.
On those days, Willie travels from the city centre to Motherwell, Timothy Valley, Kwazakhele, KwaDwesi Extension and Joe Slovo.
He never has to knock. When people see him coming, gates are opened and helpers arrive to help carry and pack goods away.
For every community worker he sees, he has a friendly greeting and a smile.
Anita Buchner, Willie’s wife, who works for Love Story, said for her and Willie it was all about creating relationships.
“We are adamant it must be about the relationship. It cannot be about the stuff. Then the small food donation becomes just a drop in the ocean.
“Everyone we try to help has experienced rejection in their life. This is our way to help.”
She said the bags donated on “Big Drop Day” contained ready-to-eat food, especially for child-headed households, including bread, fruit and vegetables.
On the day The Herald witnessed the drop-off, the trailer hooked to the back of the white bakkie was also loaded with large orange pumpkins advertised as Halloween props but now repurposed for the soup kitchen.
“We also distribute pots of soup to soup kitchens where they can’t cook.”
Anita, who came to South Africa from the US, said everything she did to assist had changed her approach to one of great gratitude.
“Hunger isolates people from society. They are embarrassed that they can’t provide for themselves or for their children. They just get overwhelmed and discouraged as they try to survive.”
Love Story was born when former rugby player Luke Watson and his wife, Elaine, were so deeply touched by hunger in the inner city that they started buying ready-made sandwiches to feed people.
“We say make it personal,” Willie said as he carried parcels, gas bottles and donations into each stop on a route that takes him all day to complete.
Five days a week at the Reserve Bank building, behind Market Square, Love Story also feeds destitute people in the inner city.