A poverty-stricken community in the Western Cape this morning united in prayer for a Witzenberg farmer who honoured his commitment to feed nearly 800 families despite also burying his own mother on the same day.
Rossouw Cillié, owner and managing director of Laastedrif Boerdery in Ceres, donated tonnes of fresh produce as part of Food For Mzansi and Agri SA’s covid-19 feeding project. His 93-year-old mother, Irene, was buried in the family farm’s garden which she loved dearly.
“My mother was an exceptional person,” says Cillié, who previously won Agri Writers SA’s Farmer of the Year award. “She was the queen of Laastedrif, the cornerstone of the farm. Our family value system comes from her. She cared and believed that it was more blessed to give than to receive.”
Nearly 50 volunteers from Scottsville in Kraaifontein kicked off the day by gathering around bishop Robert Natal from You, Me and Us, a local non-profit organisation. He held up his hands and prayed, “Father, we pray your blessings on the Laastedrif family. Please comfort them as they say their final goodbyes. May they prosper. Keep them safe. Father, also bless all other farmers wherever they might be today.”
Food For Mzansi editor Dawn Noemdoe says they have been overwhelmed by people who have asked for food donations from all parts of the country. “We’re a small team, and we honestly wished that we had the means to assist everyone. We are eternally grateful, though, that today we are able to support many organisations. Honestly, we could not have done this without Laastedrif and Agri SA. We couldn’t have done this without our farmers.”
Up to 85% unemployment
Among the organisations and churches who received food parcels count Restorative Youth Development led by the dynamic Terence Crowster, a community leader. His research found that nearly 85% of people in Scottsville, the area in which he grew up, was unemployed even before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Crowster says, “It is extremely heartbreaking to see how people live. To see how they suffer. But it’s even more sad to see their ingorance towards covid-19. Many are not wearing masks nor are they maintaining social distancing. We literally cry about it – to see their hunger and desperation. They really just want to be outside. They just want to try and live their normal lives. If they’re outside, they believe that maybe they’ll find a food line somewhere in which they can queue.”
Na-eema Samuels, the founder of House of Grace in Macassar, was surprised when she learnt that Food For Mzansi had also identified her safe house children to benefit from the Laastedrif fresh produce. She tells Duncan Masiwa that food donations have decreased significantly since the lockdown started 58 days ago.
Where previously she could also cook for community members she now has to prioritise her NGO. “Many are reliant on House of Grace. Believe me when I say the vegetable donation will make a huge difference,” she says.
‘Too embarrassed to ask for help’
Mercia Isaacs, chairperson of the Prins Alfred Hamlet-based Oppi Koppie, was moved by the donation to their early childhood development centre. She says, “We are not only feeding the 150 children in our care, but also their parents. We are aggressive in our approach because I can literally see how our little ones will die of hunger before they will die of the coronavirus.”
Also, a Kraaifontein community leader, who asked to remain anonymous, says when they surprised a desperate grandmother with the fresh produce she burst out in tears. “They didn’t have anything to eat last night. They were too embarrassed to ask for help. Our farmers have no idea what they mean to us.”
Meanwhile Eldoret Ferreira from Outside the Bowl Africa, a poverty alleviation project, says the vegetables will go a long way in feeding, amongst others, desperate families with learners in LK Zeeman primary school in the Cape Winelands. The school is supported by the Paarl Boys Primary School’s “Serve to Grow” project.
“Before the covid-19 pandemic our focus was on feeding children via early childhood development projects. We produce and distribute our own porridge from our factory in Wellington. But now, during the lockdown, the need is almost surreal. Often learners’ only meal would be the porridge served at school. Now, with the schools being closed we have to go above and beyond to help where we can,” Ferreira says.
Morajee Naik, a magistrate at the Bellville Magistrate’s Court, joined the Kraaifontein team of volunteers to offload the Laastedrif food truck just after sunrise. He plays an active role in the Wellington community where, together with People’s Food Bank and Radio KC, they have already fed close to 25 000 people during the lockdown.
“It’s tough out there,” he tells Food For Mzansi. “Many of the soup kitchens work from their own pockets, but at least we’re seeing the presence of hope on a daily basis. We have a policy of ‘each one must feed one’. It will ease the pressure on government if everyone can share something with someone who doesn’t have.”
The Food For Mzansi, Laastedrif and Agri SA food project today also supported A.M.E. congregations in Athlone, Belhar and Scottsville, as well as the Brackenfell and Kraaifontein Community Action Network.
Wendy Franka, a project leader at You, Me and Us, says it was heart-warming to see so many volunteers who have come together on a Saturday morning to help distribute food to the needy. “It was beautiful to witness so many people joining forces here today. It proves that when there’s a need, people are willing to put aside their differences to help each another. The need is great.”
‘Famines of Biblical proportions’
Sinesipho Tom reports that Agri SA deputy executive director Christo van der Rheede is humbled by the agricultural sector’s extensive support to impoverished communities across the country. He says, “The last thing we need right now is social instability or people taking to the streets to demand food, as they do in Zimbabwe and other parts of the world. We are fortunate that our commercial farmers are going the extra mile, not only by producing food for the market, but also by making free food available through donations.”
A new World Resources Institute report say as many as 265 million people around the world are suffering from food insecurity and possible starvation intensified by covid-19. Furthermore, the World Food Programme warns of widespread famines of “Biblical proportions” during the pandemic.
Individuals and organisations who wish to support Food For Mzansi’s food project can e-mail co-founder Ivor Price on firstname.lastname@example.org.