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Demonstrating Ubuntu In A Crisis

In this time of uncertainty and hardship, it’s encouraging to know that many organisations and individuals are going above and beyond to help those in distress, writes Keith Bain.

South Africans are great believers in Ubuntu and goodwill has never been so critical as in the current COVID-19 crisis. While the pandemic has forced millions to forfeit an income and wait, anxious and, in many cases, starving, numerous organisations have stepped up to make a difference. These are five that caught our eye.

Foodforward SA

Focused on food security and hunger relief, FoodForward SA serves the vulnerable by sourcing, collecting and storing surplus food from farmers, manufacturers and retailers – for redistribution through beneficiary organisations.

Its digital platform, FoodShare, connects beneficiary organisations with retail partners to direct surplus food to areas in need.

FoodForward MD Andy du Plessis says this not only lessens food wastage, but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with the dumping of food in landfills.

Under normal conditions, FoodForward prepares between 150 000 and 250 000 food parcels monthly, reaching over a million vulnerable people. Each parcel provides a family with edible essentials that last up to four weeks. In 2019, FoodForward distributed 5 115 tons of food, providing some 20 million meals.

It estimated that, during the crisis, some 30 million South Africans would require food support, so before lockdown, Du Plessis announced that FoodForward was scaling up operations in rural communities.

“We aim to secure food provisions for our most at-risk groups – the aged, orphans and vulnerable children, people living with HIV/AIDS, and TB patients – for the next six months.”

By early May, the organisation had increased its network of 670 beneficiary organisations to 1 005. After partnering with the Solidarity Fund, it managed to deliver 86 500 food parcels to vulnerable households within 10 days.

During the first eight weeks of lockdown, FoodForward received over 900 tons of fresh produce donated by farmers. By the end of May, FoodForward had formed a strategic partnership with AgriSA and the Citrus Growers Association of South Africa, leveraging support from over 28 000 farmers and 1 000 farmer associations for the supply of edible surplus fresh produce.

TEARS animal rescue

“We’re receiving dozens of pleas for help from pet owners in vulnerable communities,” said Lauren Carlyle, general manager of TEARS, at the start of lockdown.

TEARS – an animal rescue organisation – runs a veterinary clinic that provides
free sterilisation and subsidised medical procedures for pets from low-income communities within a 250 square kilometre area across the southern Cape Peninsula. Carlyle recognised the lockdown as a potential animal welfare crisis, where people with limited means would have no way of feeding their animals.

She also noted that despite messages informing the public that animals are not connected to the spread of the virus, people were dumping pets. So, TEARS ramped up its support of poor communities. Apart from collecting and distributing pet food, TEARS continued its essential veterinary service activity in Vrygrond, Ocean View, Redhill and Masiphumelele. An emergency animal relief fund meant that TEARS could continue to collect and treat sick and injured animals from these areas.

 1000 Women Trust

#Enough is Enough. That’s one important message touted by 1000 Women Trust, an organisation primarily involved in the crusade against gender-based violence. And, according to Tina Thiart, a founding member and trustee of the trust, the message is all the more pressing during times of extreme stress. Incidences of domestic violence remain high and more and more women are seeking help. This has resulted in shelters for women reaching capacity far quicker. Aside from grassroots assistance, 1000 Women hosts training sessions to expand its support base of lay counsellors. It has also launched an app, 1000 Women 1 Voice.

“It is a low-data application with resources such as numbers to call in case of problems and contacts for counsellors,” says Thiart. “During lockdown, we’ve had so many people phoning our helplines that they have become overloaded. So we developed our own lingo – we use hearts and colours – to enable women to quickly send a WhatsApp or Facebook message and get the necessary support or response.

For example, if they send a purple heart, it means ‘I am experiencing trauma,’ and a counsellor will contact them to find out how they can help.”

Mould Empower Serve

Nonprofit organisation Mould Empower Serve (MES) – a small Christian organisation with facilities in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Kempton Park and PE – seeks to empower the powerless. Activities include providing safe playgrounds and nutritious meals to children, serving meals and providing beds to homeless people, and offering skills training and job placement services.

During April and May, MES workers and volunteers served some 63 420 nutritious meals and distributed 5 472 food parcels to vulnerable individuals and families. These figures are staggering, particularly when compared with the same period in 2019 when under 10 000 meals and 430 food parcels were distributed. MES also conducted over 2 000 health screenings and provided 253 shelter beds during April and May.

MES CEO Leona Pienaar says: “We made the decision to continue operating throughout lockdown as more and more people came to our shelter seeking assistance.”

During lockdown, MES waived its usual small commitment fee for overnight shelter. Instead of providing a single night’s stay with a hot shower, warm bed and safety, MES facilities converted into no-cost stay-in shelters, so homeless people could remain in one place throughout lockdown.

Pienaar says it has been challenging: “We have vulnerable people from different backgrounds housed together for weeks, but it has been incredible to see people learning to be patient with each other, learning new skills and supporting one another.”

Aside from donations of cash and essential products, Pienaar says MES has benefitted from incredible human generosity: “Over 55 volunteers in Cape Town offered to be first responders,” she says. “They cooked and served food, managed queues of hundreds of street people and brought love and care.”


It’s inspirational to see people unite and initiate schemes to alleviate the plight of the needy. In Hout Bay, cancer sufferer Lea Froman felt something needed to be done within her community.

At the start of lockdown, she and husband David contributed R1-million to kickstart Courage, an organisation aimed at raising funds to provide food and essentials to vulnerable households in Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg. By mid-May, Courage had raised R7.8-million, and aims to bring in R30-million to continue its work into September. Courage partners with community groups, churches, sports clubs and NGOs to distribute the goods.

During a typical week, they deliver 2 300 food parcels, which feed 9 200 people for two weeks. Before distribution, donations are sorted, sanitised and parcelled by a logistics team. Then the community-based distribution network ensures the goods reach the right people. By late May, more than 30 000 food parcels had been delivered along with tons of fresh fruit and vegetables sourced from local farms and suppliers. Besides monetary donations, Courage gets food trolley donations from the local Spar and Pick n Pay.

On Youth Day, an online auction raised much-needed funds – auction lots included fine art, wines and spirits, and covetable travel experiences. 

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