The national government has, for a second time, been interdicted by the high court from implementing new regulations to control measures for the humanitarian distribution of food for the hungry.
The court application was brought by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and non-profit organisation, the 1 000 Women Trust.
The Western Cape High Court on Tuesday interdicted Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu from implementing draft directions that would expand on measures required to distribute food under lockdown.
These protocols were first gazetted back on 29 April, in terms of the Disaster Management Act (DMA).
The DA's James Lorimer on Tuesday said the new regulations had the potential of blocking food relief as organisations became mired in bureaucratic processes.
"The latest regulations were published last Thursday and sought to set up a complicated system of planning and reporting that would need to be complied with by all NGOs and food relief charities before they operated soup kitchens or distributed food parcels," he said in a statement.
He said when officials began implementing the first set of distribution restrictions, thousands of people were stopped from getting food as the department sought to centralise distribution.
Tina Thiart, of the 1 000 Women Trust, explained: "We received the proposed new directive from the national Department of Social Development (DSD) on Saturday.
"It contained two elements we disagreed with in particular: First, that DSD must control all the soup kitchens and parcel distributions, which we do not agree with. And, second, new rules around meeting particular health and safety measures. Most of our kitchens are temporary kitchens - at NPO (not-for-profit organisations) offices and people's houses" – and so could not be expected to meet the same requirements for formal establishments, Thiart explained.
They had worked all Saturday and Sunday on a legal challenge, and taken their case to court on Monday morning – again with the DA.
And, this week, the court ruled in their favour for the second time, following an initial court interdict ruling on 22 May.
"The Minister is directed to give the Applicants three court days' notice of her intention to issue any directions in terms of the DMA Regulations which will limit existing rights to distribute or receive food, and to furnish the Applicants with a copy of such directions," the court order said.
"The Minister is directed to pay the Applicants' costs, including the costs stood over from 22 May 2020, and including the costs of two counsel throughout."
'Rather support us and work with us'
Thiart said of the ruling: "We are delighted by it. Right from the beginning, people have the right to food, and we have the right to share our food with communities. I really hope we are at the end of DSD trying to control soup kitchens. They should rather support them, and work with them.
"We're running around getting food the whole day – to individuals, companies, collecting food, and trying to find funds, for fuel to collect the food, etc. It's hard enough to get food to people, without having to fight the department," Thiart said.
Lorimer, meanwhile, said the social development department would not have the capacity to centralise food donations.
"Despite admitting she did not expect the damaging effects of the lockdown on poor people, [Minister] Zulu still went ahead with her new regulations," Lorimer said.
"She may believe her Department of Social Development is a super-efficient organisation that has plenty of spare capacity to start a process that will control all food distribution. This is not likely as the department struggles to perform its core functions."
Lorimer charged that the action should disqualify Zulu from office, and called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to fire her from Cabinet.
The first ruling effectively meant that the government could not prevent the distribution of food during the Covid-19 national lockdown, at least for a few more weeks pending another court date.
Thiart said that although the initial court ruling's time period had now expired, they had received no further word on it – beside the new proposed directive, now successfully interdicted.
'All we are asking is to adhere to protocols'
Speaking to News24 last month on the case, the minister said the social development department had repeatedly said it never wanted to stop organisations from helping South Africans.
"I want to make it clear that there is no way in hell that I can be standing in front of people who want to distribute food. We are understanding the plight of people at this point in time - the last thing one can do is stop people from distributing food to the hungry," said had said.
She said there were, however, protocols that had to be followed.
"There is social distancing and wearing of masks. There is a virus that is transmitted from one person to the next. All we are asking for from people is to please adhere to those protocols - please make sure you don't get a lot of people coming out and standing in long queues without proper monitoring and people assisting them, so they don't infect each other."
She also called for dignity in the handing out of food parcels.
"If we are doing these things, we ought to do it with dignity. Let me tell you, as a person who struggled to get SA to where it is today, nothing pains me more than seeing people pushing and jostling for food. It is a very painful picture to see."