Sundays River Valley community ready to fight Covid-19 spread
“We worked hard to develop a system of trust between the community and the farmers.
“Now we have a community that works together with no underlying political agenda. We share a common cause, which is to see Sundays River Valley develop.”
Those were the words of development specialist Professor Deon Pretorius, who works with the Sundays River Valley Collaborative which has succeeded in tempering tensions between farmworkers, the community and farm owners.
So bad was the tension that in 2014, a municipal building was set alight.
Those same tensions erupted into violent protests again in 2018 and orchards and trucks were torched.
This had a crippling effect on citrus farmers who supply fruit to export markets across the globe.
Collaborative community development co-ordinator Theo Bezuidenhout said 2018 was their “very own Covid-19 as it prepared us to learn how to work together as businesses and the community”.
“Before the coronavirus pandemic, we already had an action team within the collaborative called social and health work.
“We never had the shock or denial stage when the pandemic struck, we immediately moved into action.
“We had a scheduled leadership course on March 19 for 23 community leaders. They were chosen from eight wards which have 11 different residential areas and a sum of about 65,000 people,” Bezuidenhout said.
Bezuidenhout said during the first days of the pandemic when people weren’t sure what to do, pamphlets with factual information and tips were widely distributed and the collaborative visited farmworkers on March 20 to provide information.
Bezuidenhout said the group also went to the citrus packhouses with the newly trained leaders where they imparted information.
This, he said, was important as in some areas where up to 100 people lived there were few cellphones, televisions or radios to access important information.
“They neither have televisions nor radios because it’s extremely rural. We taught the basics as the World Health Organisation had suggested, using best practices, in their own languages.
“We received calls from other farmers to come and educate their workers, but we sadly had to stop because the lockdown was put into effect on March 26.
“We battled to get permits, but we eventually got them,” Bezuidenhout said.
He said the trained team of community members were eager to sanitise their areas, and the Moses Mabhida clinic and taxi rank were some of the first to be sanitised.
Through the collaborative and the citrus producer’s forum they have also supplied informal areas with water tanks.
Taxi driver Sinothando Tom was at the Moses Mabhida taxi rank earlier this week.
“We think what the collaborative has done is really amazing,” Tom said.
“These people used their own money to do this kind gesture for others, it’s really remarkable and we are grateful.
“We hope we’ll see them more often. Every taxi has its own sanitiser, while others received theirs from the taxi offices.
“[In this] valley we do things for ourselves,” Tom said.
Farmers along with organised businesses reacted without hesitation to assist struggling communities because they understood that they needed the community as much as the community needed them, according to Pretorius.
Sundays River Valley Collaborative community liaison officer Mcbride Screech said farms were ready along with packhouses for the number of people that would come [to work] when the season started in May.
“There will be huge numbers of people looking for jobs, picking citrus fruit or packing.
“The packing houses have always been sanitised, workers always wash their hands when they come back inside. The only addition is the mask,” he said.
Sundays River Valley Collaborative Community Development Coordinator Theo Bezuidenhout said at the Sundays River Citrus Company that packing houses were ready for the start of the season in May when huge numbers of people seek employment for picking citrus fruits and packing it. pic.twitter.com/7au2GN9wnJ— HeraldLIVE (@HeraldPE) April 15, 2020
Sundays River Valley Collaborative Community Development Coordinator Theo Bezuidenhout said the only thing that was a new addition as a health regulation to the standard packing house at the Sundays River Citrus Company was employees wearing masks. #Covid19inSA— HeraldLIVE (@HeraldPE) April 15, 2020
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