The agriculture sector has expressed its deepest concern for high levels of negligence and complacency within farming communities who are not always mindful of covid-19 safety protocols. Duncan Masiwa speaks to various role players about fears for the virus’ second wave.
Rural communities in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal remain on high alert after a dramatic increase of coronavirus infections. Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirms that South Africa is now officially battling the virus’ second wave and, this time around, health authorities might buckle under pressure.
Of particular concern is a covid-19 increase in holiday hotspots, but also in farming communities, confirms Dr Ivan Meyer, the Western Cape minister of agriculture. While farm life is often outdoors and socially distanced, the virus continues to shake farming communities.
An agricultural worker from Ceres in the Western Cape, Navan Hendricks, says he has changed his own behaviour after he tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in June this year. He is one of the approximately 829 000 South Africans who tested positive for it, although some experts believe that up to 20 million people might have already been infected.
“When I got my results so many things were going through my head. I was terrified, but I overcame it,” Hendricks tells Food For Mzansi, indicating that his life hasn’t been the same since. “I used to be a social and outgoing person, but my behaviour has changed.”
The 22-year-old works for Elandsrivier Boerdery, a fruit export and drying farm in Prince Alfred Hamlet, about 150 kilometres from Cape Town. Today, he is much more compliant to the stringent covid-19 regulations and under no illusions of the virus’ muscles.
“I would like to encourage my fellow agricultural workers and colleagues in the industry,” he says. “Yes, it’s not always easy (to comply to lockdown measures), but rather be safe than sorry. Wear your mask, even if it’s uncomfortable now and then. Be safe, so that you can avoid becoming one of the statistics.”
“We have NOW heard that we are in the second wave. Let it not be through the contributions of the farming sector.”
Meanwhile insiders tell Food For Mzansi they are worried about covid-19’s impact on the agricultural community. Across the country, especially farm workers are still not always maintaining social distances, and they’re often transported on overloaded vehicles.
However, the Western Cape’s head of agriculture, Dr Mogale Sebopetsa, says they are not just concerned about the agriculture sector. He says citizens, in general, have become complacent.
“We have now entered an economic recovery phase and the sector cannot another lockdown,” says Sebopetsa. “The sector has already developed transport protocols to assist with the traveling of seasonal workers. We all carry the responsibility for reducing the resurgence currently being experienced.”
He adds that government continues to aggressively monitor compliance in the sector. In addition, the province has adopted a hotspot methodology driven in collaboration with districts which aims to slow the spread of the virus and rebuild the economy.
Not adhering is ‘blatant, careless action’
An Eastern Cape grain farmer, Sinelizwi Fakade, confirms to Food For Mzansi that farmers and their workers have displayed relatively high levels of negligence in parts of his province. Mkhize has also earlier red-flagged the Eastern Cape as a covid-19 hotspot.
Characterising it as “careless action”, Fakade believes that non-compliance is more prevalent on farms producing cash crops. These farms generally attract more people.
“It is our initiative to ensure that our farm workers are in a safe space with regards to the virus. It is important that as farmers, we really (continue to) lead the charge and be extremely strict with regards to the covid-19 safety regulations,” he says.
Fakade, however, has high praise for farmers in the Joe Gqabi district municipality, in which he farms. They are generally complying with safety protocols, also after the Eastern Cape has been placed under more severe lockdown measures than the rest of the country.
‘Farmers and agri workers to lead by example’
Neo Masithela, chairperson of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa), has a stern warning for farmers and agricultural workers. “We have now heard that we are in the second wave. Let it not be through the contributions of the farming sector.”
Afasa calls on all farmers, farm managers and workers to make a meaningful attempt in reducing the spread of covid-19. Masithela says, “We also call on the children of our farmers and farm workers to avoid attending big social gatherings and observe the call made by the president and minister of health.”
Agriculture should lead by example, he says. “We have learned that agriculture has been one of the main contributors to the GDP of our country. Let’s also lead our society to reduce or flatten the spread of the virus.”