Ex-Home Affairs and Immigration Minister, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana’s position that President Hage Geingob’s Food Bank programme is unsustainable has been vindicated after Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare Minister, Zephania Kameeta,
told Parliament last week that over 7, 000 families had been cut from the project.
The number of beneficiaries now stands at 15,158 from the original 22,354 after thousands of families were removed after stricter qualifications criteria had been enacted in line with cost-cutting efforts by government.
Last November, Iivula-Ithana said able-bodied Namibians should work hard to grow the economy instead of waiting for handouts from the government.
“We must work hard to contribute to the economy and not wait to be given food. How can you have food banks if you can’t produce food yourself?
“We can have [a] food bank, because our country is prone to weather disasters. When we are faced with disasters, then we can revert to food banks, but able-bodied Namibians being fed from shops worked by others?...that is sinful.
“We can work for ourselves. The spirit of working hard for ourselves must be rekindled,” the ex-minister said at the time.
Iivula-Ithana was booted out of Geingob’s Cabinet earlier this year alongside former youth minister, Jerry Ekandjo, after a fierce congress battle in November last year.
This week, Iivula-Ithana told the Windhoek Observer that she stands by what she said at the time.
“I have said what I said at the time. If the reality is coming out now then that is the nature of things,” she said.
Former SWAPO Party Youth League Secretary, Elijah Ngurare, also argued last month that the Food Bank programme under the poverty eradication ministry promotes laziness and dependency.
In an interview, political analyst and visiting professor at the University of Cape Town, Henning Melber, said Iivula-Ithana made a valid contribution when she criticized the food bank project, adding that handouts increases vulnerability instead of reducing it.
“The critical observations on the food banks remain a valid contribution. They do not cure and at best ease temporarily the ordeal for some. What is needed is a much more profound strategy to ease the plight of those in need, aiming towards empowerment instead of cultivating a dependency syndrome,” Melber said.
“Such handouts …serve mainly the purpose to create the impression that the party and the president are doing good. It is tokenism, but not a proper concept to reduce poverty. None of the recipients will be elevated out of poverty, and those who gain are mainly those implementing the project. But they are not the ones in need.”
Social commentator, Ndumba Kamwanyah, said Iivula-Ithana was fired for telling the truth that the food bank is not sustainable in the long run.
“I do not think that she was only fired for the food bank statement that she made during the Congress campaign. But, yes such a highly critical statement (against the president’s major policy initiative) might also have played a role in the firing because she was basically tearing-apart the core of the food bank policy,” Kamwanyah said.
“What she was raising was the chief weakness of the food bank in that it is not sustainable in the long run. The sustainable solution is food production, not a food bank.”
The Windhoek Observer reported in July last year that some of the Food Bank beneficiaries from one of the constituencies in Windhoek where earning above the N$400 qualifying income ceiling.
Some of the people on the list owned taxis and shebeens while others were police and army officers.
Moses //Garoeb constituency councilor, Fanuel Shivute, told the Windhoek Observer at the time that they were investigating some of the people on their list after complaints surfaced that employed residents, including civil servants, had registered as beneficiaries of the poverty alleviation initiative.
Only those households whose total per capita monthly income is below N$400 are supposed to benefit from the food bank program.
The monthly packages include maize meal, tinned meat and fish, cooking oil, beans, yeast, flour, brown sugar and a bar of soap. The value of each parcel is about N$550.