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Nurturing the Future Tintswalos: A Call to Action in the Face of Malnutrition

By Dudu Maziya & Dr Edzani Mphaphuli (Grow Great Campaign)

(Opinion)




The forthcoming elections provide a pivotal moment for us to advocate for the rights and welfare of our nation’s youngest members. It is a chance to confront the systemic problems that have led to the malnutrition crisis, a silent catastrophe that claimed the lives of over 1000 children in 2023 alone. Despite strides in economic growth and various sectors, the scourge of malnutrition in South Africa persists, hindering the potential of countless young lives.


Haunted by the Ghost of 1.5 Million Tintswalos that will never be


Months after the State of the Nation Address (Sona), we are haunted by the ghost of approximately 1.5 million potential Tintswalos that will never be. Why this number? 1,5 million represents the staggering count of children under five in South Africa who suffer from stunted growth, meaning they are too short for their age, indicating potential limitations in their brain development as well, rendering their chances of achieving Tintswalo-like success tragically unattainable.


Shortness for age reflects the accumulation of malnutrition over months and years, indicating the long-term effects of poor nutrition. Children who are too short for their age are likely to reach less than half of their full potential, if they are lucky. More often than not, they will face academic hurdles, as the chronic lack of healthy food during the early years of their lives means their brains and other organs didn’t receive the nutrients needed to develop properly.


Consequently, many of these stunted children will inevitably drop out of school, condemning them to a future plagued by unemployment. Additionally, being too short for their age also predisposes them to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, exacerbating their struggles as they navigate an already overburdened healthcare system, further dimming their prospects for a brighter future.


Tintswalo: An endangered species


The president may have portrayed Tintswalo as the norm, but sadly, in South Africa, Tintswalo remains the exception. Tintswalo rather serves as a testament to untapped the potential within South Africa, yet the harsh reality remains that achieving a Tintswalo-like success is often a matter of chance in this country.


The societal structure fails to ensure that every ambitious child has an equal shot at being a Tintswalo. Whether you will become a Tintswalo or not is still largely determined by the size of the pockets of your family, the colour of your skin, the neighbourhood you grow up in, and sadly the quality and quantity of the meals on you receive, if you are

fortunate to get one.


Many potential Tintswalos die before reaching the age of five due to malnutrition, despite the country not being food insecure and in fact, being a net exporter and significant waster of food, with 10 million tonnes of food going to waste every year. We must act urgently before Tintswalo becomes an endangered child, threatened by hunger and malnutrition in a country full of resources.


Every day, 30 Tintswalos succumb to hunger-related causes in South Africa, amounting to the loss of 10,000 potential Tintswalos annually. This figure encompasses the 1,000 children who directly die from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and approximately 9,000 more under the age of five for whom SAM contributes to their demise.


These poignant moments serve as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of food insecurity and the urgent need to prioritise nutrition as a foundational pillar of our efforts to build a better world for all.


Children Left Behind as Poverty Line and Child Support Grant Fail to Align


The fact that malnutrition remains a leading cause of death among young children in South Africa is a sobering reminder of the work that still needs to be done to protect our most vulnerable citizens.


Every child deserves a fair chance at a healthy and fulfilling life, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that they receive the support they need to thrive. Section 28(1)(c) of the Constitution gives every child the right to basic nutrition which is critical to ensuring they get a fair chance in life.


However, in South Africa, we are still far from levelling the playing field for every child. In a country where the food poverty line hovers at R760 per person per month, the stark reality of malnutrition and poverty intertwines to form a harrowing narrative.


This figure represents the bare minimum required for an individual to meet their daily basic food needs, yet it remains out of reach for the majority of young children in South Africa. Obviously, at R530 the child support grant falls short of this threshold, underscoring the systemic challenges faced by families struggling to provide adequate nutrition for their children.


Addressing malnutrition is not just a moral imperative but a strategic

necessity for achieving our collective aspirations


While Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) no 2 explicitly addresses nutrition, its significance transcends this singular goal, permeating the fabric of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.


Nutrition serves as a linchpin in the pursuit of a sustainable and equitable world, underpinning key aspects of health, education, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability. As we navigate the complex landscape of global development, it becomes increasingly clear that addressing malnutrition is not just a moral imperative but a strategic necessity for achieving our collective aspirations.


If you care about the future: Vote for a party that prioritises children's nutrition especially in the first thousand days of life


A study published in The Lancet in 2008 followed groups of children as they grew up in five countries, including South Africa. It found that how tall children were at age two was the best way to predict their success as adults. This again highlights the importance of good nutrition in early life in determining the future success of a nation.


As we ponder who to vote for, we need to choose a party that prioritises ensuring that every child, even while still in their mothers’ womb is provided with nutritious food so that they can grow great.


We must vote for a party that commits to ensuring the social grant is at least on par with the food poverty line. This would provide families with the financial means to afford adequate nutrition, helping to reduce hunger and improve the overall health of our children.


Early identification and intervention are key in addressing malnutrition. A party that implements systems to quickly identify children at risk of malnutrition and takes swift action can prevent long-term health issues and improve children's chances of thriving.


Access to basic nutritious food must be a priority. Identifying essential foods and making sure they are affordable is critical in the fight against hunger. A party that focuses on making healthy food accessible to all families will help build a healthier, stronger community.


A hungry nation is an angry nation, but a well-nourished nation is a happy and successful one. We want a happy and flourishing nation, so we must elect leaders who will help us feed our children with nutritious food. By addressing this fundamental need, together with our leaders we can create a brighter future for everyone.


The upcoming elections provide a unique opportunity for leaders to prioritise the well-being of our young children. By focusing on early childhood development, ensuring access to nutritious food, and implementing sustainable solutions, we can create a legacy of care and opportunity for all South African children. Now is the time to advocate for change, to stand up for the Tintswalos of our nation, and build a future where every child can thrive and succeed.

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