The reality of Covid-19 pandemic has sunk in as South Africans prepare for a 21–day lockdown announced by pres. Cyril Ramaphosa in his address to the country this week. The nationwide lockdown takes effect on Thursday, 26 March 2020 at midnight, ending on Thursday, 16 April 2020.
Although SA farmers are considered an essential service, and therefore exempted from the 21-day lockdown, Mzansi’s farmers are forced to take serious risks and extreme cautionary measures to ensure their safety and the safety of agricultural workers throughout the country.
“We are all in this together,” says Bothaville crop farmer Buchule Jack, who is taking instructions of government seriously during these trying times.
“I have done all my shopping for at least the next two weeks,” he says. “It’s very important to lockdown South Africa because the number of infections are sitting at almost more than 700 and those are definitely by far not the real numbers,” he stresses.
The 37-year-old crop farmer runs a 482-hectare potato enterprise in the Free State alongside his brother Buzwe Pama and friend Pieter Van Heerden.
Jack urges his fellow agriculturalists to fall in line and stand alone together as we attempt to flatten the curve and protect the backbone of the agricultural industry – the farm worker. “It’s not good for our economy, but it is for the greater good,” he says.
“Even though agriculture is part of the exempt industries we definitely want our workers to be safe and they will be on lockdown as well,” he further clarifies.
Eastern Cape poultry farmer Manyano Rasmeni has opted to see the positive side of his 21-days in self-isolation. The young farmer believes these 21-days will give him some much needed time to rest and prepare for the next harvest season.
“I’ve been very busy for the last three months, so self-isolation is a forced rest for me that I must take!” says the Bhisho farmer.
He adds that this time will be dedicated and focused on his son. “It’s going to give me time with my child, and it’s going to give me time to make sure that everything is in order. I am preparing basically for the next term. I am happy that I will be forced to stay on the farm.”
Over the weekend South Africans were challenged to refrain from engaging in any social activities. This was not the case in Bhisho, says Rasmeni, who farms in the community. He says it was alarming how people in his community had blatantly disregarded the call to action.
“What they will do is they will buy alcohol before the bottle stores close and sit outside of the shebeen drinking,” he says.
Rasmeni says it would be in the best interest of citizens to focus their energy on stocking up on medication instead. “Make sure that you have all medication in stock, like your antibiotics, and get your vaccination. If it happens that you are in a crisis they will run into problems,” says Rasmeni.
Jack too has his fears over the pandemic. “These are unprecedented times. I don’t think anyone knows how to feel. A lot of businesses are going to be crippled, but at least the President has announced efficient and effective measures that we can use to try and mitigate the negative effects of this lockdown.”
Full-time employees on his farming enterprise will be exempt from working during the 21-day shutdown.
“Our workers are encouraged to do isolation when they’re at work, but as of Thursday or Friday morning the workers that are coming in from their homes will no longer be coming to the farm as per government instruction,” he says.
This time, he says, will be dedicated towards preparing and strategising his next harvest. “We are hoping that in the next 21 days we will get further clarity, but our next big harvest and planting season will be in May, so we still have time,” Jack says.