Disaster relief: why the state is left out

The shortages of basic supplies such as food, medicine, baby milk and other provisions in the unrest-stricken areas of KwaZulu-Natal once again, as happened so often during the past two years, mobilised civil structures to take over the state’s responsibility with regard to disaster relief. While the state is establishing committees and convening meetings with willing organisations to plan disaster relief, thousands of tons of supplies already are being moved every day outside the framework of the state on trucks, by air and on bakkies to alleviate suffering in towns and cities. Private security guards escort convoys where the SAPS and the defence force are unable to do it.

Disaster relief is a more general need in the agricultural environment, but it is a luxury. Apart from limited contributions from the Western Cape Provincial Government, there is precious little assistance for farmers who are going to rack and ruin because of fires, unrest, droughts or floods. Farmers are more experienced in organising private disaster relief, and for as long as the ANC stays in power, they and their rural communities themselves will have to provide for relief to afflicted areas. This self-sufficiency outside the structures, budgets, scope and influence of the state is in extent and effectiveness fairly unique in the world, and organised agriculture as well as foreign governments are finding it fascinating.

Reports of how disaster relief in the form of fodder and food parcels had been keeping large parts of the Karoo and the Little Karoo going through eight years of the worst drought in human memory were read all over the world. Then there were the politically instigated fires in October 2020 in the north-western Free State, destroying a hundred thousand hectares, but the same group of organisations that coordinate drought relief, delivered enough fodder, fencing material and food parcels within a couple of weeks to allow the entire area to survive. Even the livestock was replaced.

The irrational COVID-19 regulations announced in April 2020 destroyed hundreds of thousands of job opportunities and left families without income or food. Farmers realised that there was little they could do to buffer the damning impact on the economy, but they delivered food such as vegetables, fruit and meat in rural areas where the state never showed a face. This disaster relief made a difference even deep into urban areas, so much so that Panyaza Lesufi of the ANC in Gauteng tried to nationalise and centralise it. The farmers simply refused, because trust in the state was lacking.

The Minister of Agriculture, Thoko Didiza, initially together with some agricultural organisations established a number of committees to coordinate the impact of COVID-19 regulations on the agricultural sector, but the announcement was the last the public heard about it. With the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal the same agricultural organisations again were involved, even with announcements in the media. There are three solid reasons why the much larger disaster relief movement functioning outside the state is not and do not want to be involved in this.

The most obvious reason is the corruption, self-enrichment and ineffectiveness that come with the package when the state becomes your partner. The video material of officials having COVID-19 food relief parcels off-loaded at their homes or selling them instead of delivering them to hungry families, dominates any internet search concerning the state’s disaster relief. The shameless lack of any consequences deters farmers and businesspeople who otherwise would consider making contributions. The state has yet to come up with a case study of donations reaching the intended needy families without nepotism, corruption or red tape.

A much more important reason why the more effective role-players in disaster relief cannot work with the state is ideological in nature. This concerns the ANC’s fundamental commitment to racial criteria for disaster relief. The aggression and foaming conviction of the state explaining in court its unyielding policy of restricting COVID-19 disaster relief in the tourism industry to black entrepreneurs has estranged it from the part of South Africa that nurtures a non-racial ideal. Farmers and businesspeople will not encourage the state in its wrongdoing, and even members of the agricultural organisations who are working with the state are taking their contributions to alternative disaster relief structures such as the Manna for the Farmers group, the Solidarity Fund or Solidarity Helping Hand.

A third reason why so few organisations are prepared to join forces with the state for disaster relief has to do with the internationalisation thereof. Much more than the social media shedding light online on the extent and depth of the distress, the world’s largest news agencies pulled the moral carpet from under the ANC long ago. To foreign governments the outcome of a court action on black economic empowerment, cadre deployment or race-based quotas does not matter, they simply find it immoral. Apartheid, too, was legal, but the world spat it out. Ever more development aid, donor funds, bursaries and other resources these days are flowing to South Africans via alternative channels because the world has sided against the government. This is why specifically organisations with less international exposure would enter into a disaster relief partnership with the state.