Mandela Day 2018: Action against Poverty through the Food Security Lens

By Felix Donkor

Each year Mandela Day (18 July) is a clarion call on all and sundry to contribute their quota to make our common world a better place.  Thus, in making every day a Mandela Day, we celebrate Madiba’s life and legacy in a sustainable way that will bring about enduring change. Poverty, however, is a social canker that compromises efforts at improving household well-being and individual livelihoods and consequently, initiatives at making the world a better place. The ubiquitous impact of poverty and inequality in South African society is a common denominator in issues of malnutrition, stunted growth, poor educational performance, skills shortfall and lack of employment, disease prevalence, the loss of dignity, coupled with anger and violence. The 2018 edition of the Mandela Day therefore sought to mobilise social action against poverty.

Quality education, and for that a matter a stimulating environment for learning, promotes human resources development – which ultimately helps address poverty. Students and staff from the University of Witwatersrand collaborated in addressing the nutrition needs of food insecure students and their immediate families. This involved a charity gardening initiative and donation of food items to shore up reserves of the Wits Food Bank which satisfies the nutritional needs of food insecure students. Students, staff and some members of the general public joined hands early in the morning to develop an entirely new garden to produce fresh vegetables for food insecure students. Students from other universities seeking to replicate the model joined hands with their Wits counterparts.

Felix Donkor
Students from across the five Wits’ campuses partook in the Madiba Day challenge (Source: Felix Donkor)

Ms Maricia Smith and Felix Donkor of the student gardening initiative -Inala Food Sovereignty and Climate Justice Forum- briefed participants on the essence of the day’s activities. Dr Malan Naude of the University of Johannesburg and founder of the Izindaba Zokudla (Conversations about Food) shared his expertise, whilst some representatives of other burgeoning campus gardening initiatives drew some lessons from the event. The thriving vegetable gardens supply vegetables to the universities hot meal project and to students in need of nutritional support. This is done in collaboration with the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach (WCCO), which oversees several initiatives aimed at combating food insecurity on campus. These include the Masidleni Daily Meal Project, which provides a daily hot lunch to approximately 800 students, and nearly 4000 students receive food hampers for provisions after hours and weekends.
In the late morning, Wits staff and the general student population sought to fill a massive canvas imprinted with Madiba’s face with non-perishable foods. This brought together Witsies from all five campuses together in overcoming this daunting challenge. A drone then took a picture of the colourful event from mid-air depicting the smiling Mandela produced from food and sanitary items, and encircled by Witsies shouting, “Happy Birthday, Mandela!”