Responding to Covid at Street Level: Working with Love to Feed Hungry Children in Imizamo Yethu

Sindiswa Manxeba started a soup kitchen out of her home in Imizamo Yethu, Cape Town, when lockdown began in 2020. She and her team work primarily to help feed the children of the nearby school, who queue in the street outside.

Sindiswa Manxeba is 62 and has lived in Imizamo Yethu since 2008.

Sindiswa Manxeba, or Mama Manxeba as her neighbours know her, was born in the Eastern Cape and is in her 60s. Her energy is impressive, not just because she is as active and healthy as a much younger person, but because of the way she speaks about her work. She gets up at 5am, puts water on the stove, takes a bath and starts kitchen duties. When her team of five volunteers arrive at 8am, preparations are well under way. The one requisite for working in Manxeba’s kitchen is to work with love, she says, because problems always arise that can lead to frustration and anger. “We don’t need that.”

When we visit, Mama Manxeba is pacing up and down the street in front of her house where children have started to queue to receive their meal. The first two arrived just after 1pm and by 1:30pm a line has started to form and curves along the street.

Manxeba reminds the children to put on their masks and to keep “social distancing”. Then she fills up a bucket with soapy water and asks each child to wash their hands and to get back in the queue. It’s a simple, but careful procedure, coordinated with three women in the kitchen and two young men who help collect the containers the children have brought with them to store the food. Manxeba asks the children to pray with her to give thanks and tells them, because it’s a long weekend ahead, they should only return on Tuesday.

She says that at one point her team also distributed meals at weekends. This soon exhausted them, however, and they decided to keep the feeding schedule from Monday to Friday — with one exception. One of the neighbour’s kids, a four-year-old, became so accustomed to coming for food that Manxeba found him knocking on her door on Saturdays and Sundays too. Not only that, his mother reported that even when she was able to cook at home, she had to make up a story about how it was Mama Manxeba’s food, otherwise he would not eat.

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