Community response in South Africa

| 1st May 2020
Headstart trust covid-19 South Africa
Bruce jack
South Africa's wine industry has been hit hard by an export ban and lockdown, yet some businesses are redirecting their resources to supporting local communities.

It is almost facile to say that things have changed and will always remain changed. I hope that people will see passed the greed that has ruined the planet. We desperately need to rejuvenate the balance in nature because that is really the buffer between these kinds of catastrophes and us being able to live in harmony with all organisms.

Back in February, I received a call from Bruce Jack, an award-winning winemaker from South Africa, asking if I could contribute an article to a new magazine venture he was putting together. 

We agreed on a theme of climate change and wine in Portugal, with a deadline of two weeks as Jack was aiming to launch his Jack Journal at the wine industry’s leading trade event, ProWein in Dusseldorf, Germany. 

The next time I spoke to Jack the world had changed. South Africa had banned any transportation, sales and export of alcohol. 

Industry 

Bruce Jack explained: "We are the only wine-producing country in the world that has not been allowed to export and one of only four countries in the world that have some kind of alcohol ban in place, that is a complete blanket ban. 

"You are not allowed to put a case of wine in the boot of your car. If you get pulled over you will go to jail. There is no distribution of alcohol, no sale of alcohol through any channel and there is certainly no export.

"This has been absolutely devastating financially for the industry. We were allowed to export for a week at the start of the initial lockdown phase and then a truck on its way to the harbour was hijacked. This really bothers the mind because it caused the whole industry to be locked down again.

"I think we have had a very different experience from any other wine-producing country. But, look, the World Health Organisation had lauded South Africa's reaction. As you guys are heading into Spring and we are heading into Autumn and Winter, we know that the virus prefers this environment to spread around. 

"We certainly don't have the hospital capacity or the medical personnel capacity to be able to deal with a virus that would take hold in a country like this. It would be absolutely devastating and absolute carnage.

Markets

"I am also actually in favour of keeping alcohol off the streets in South Africa. What we don't need is our hospitals clogged up with alcohol-related accidents, road accidents or whatever. We do have a terrible road fatality record, primarily because of weak policing. 

"I think we are in a situation in South Africa where the very difficult decision has had to be made by those in charge, of how one grapples with the medical emergency, the medical threat, without completely creating a civil unrest situation through poverty and through hunger.

"I am not sure they have got that right because there is some low hanging fruit. One of them is wine exports. It doesn't mean that alcohol is going to come into the local market at all and it would allow us to bring in foreign revenue. It would allow us to bring in revenue which the exchequer desperately needs."

About 15 years ago, Jack helped set-up the HeadStart Trust aimed specifically at supporting primary school education to help kids establish their own identities through the use of music.

The result of personal suffering that has been endured over many centuries, Jack says, is still very evident today, where people struggle to discover their true self-worth.

Community

Jack continued: "We have been campaigning for music to be in the curriculum in all schools in Africa and for the government to focus on getting music teachers into school. So the kids have the opportunity to learn how to read and write music because we know that increases everything else, their maths and their language skills.

"Obviously with Covid-19 and all the schools being closed, we said: "Right, food relief!". So we got all the trustees together and we agreed to change the focus of the trust for this period. 

"Our real role now is to provide a bridge between the 'haves', whether they are overseas in Canada, in Europe, and the 'have-nots', who are the people who are starving in our poor rural areas which have been forgotten about.

"In a lot of places, municipalities have not functioned for years. So you cannot give municipalities money and expect that to somehow miraculously become food parcels. You have to work with people who are already working in the community, people who are working in aftercare facilities, or with women who are at risk, who have been beaten up by their husband. 

"There are a lot of community centres in these little villages and you work with them. You also work through the churches who know who in their community is the poorest and most at risk."

Supply

"We also work with already established soup kitchens who have been doing this anyway. We do four main things. We buy food from partners, like with a supermarket we have partnered within Cape Town. We go and buy bulk from them at very good prices, pick it up using our vehicles and our personnel and we distribute directly to soup kitchens and directly to people making up food parcels in these poor rural areas. 

"The other thing is that we are establishing our own soup kitchen and that actually goes into production next week for the first time. So we have had to go and purchase our own equipment. It is going to be located in the Dutch Reform Church in Napier. We have had to go and buy our own gas and get our electricity and our kitchen up and running.

"We are really going to be focussing on the guys who fall through the cracks. A lot of foreign nationals fall into that category. A lot of people who just haven't or don't know how to apply for a grant.

"South Africans who have just found the whole process too difficult and who are not getting any money, who have lost their jobs, their income and have run out of food.

"The other thing we are going to be doing is feeding the children who we have been teaching anyway for the last five years in primary schools. They get fed on a Tuesday and Thursday by the Department of Education but they can't afford to feed them any more than that so we are going to try and feed them on the Monday and the Friday so that they have food either side of the weekend.

Reach

"We are supplying the whole southern Cape region and we are now talking to another region in order to try and support them. It has been a bit like a military operation but at the same time there is that saying that we have grown up with noblesse oblige, we have a lot of responsibility because we have a lot of privilege. It is something I have grown up with all my life and this is an opportunity to put it into action.

"It is almost facile to say that things have changed and will always remain changed. I hope that people will see passed the greed that has ruined the planet.

"I would like to focus peoples attention on this crisis that we are successfully, collectively and collaboratively combatting, on all sorts of levels from the community and civil society perspective, all the way up to logistics companies and high levels of government.

"This is an opportunity to remove the actors from politics and to ensure that we only put leaders in politics. Politics is fraught. There is a disease of actors and that is why there has been so many poor decisions taken.

"That is the first thing. It has to galvanise the thought processes of people voting so they ask whether they are voting for a person who can handle a crisis and who they believe in when the going gets tough, or, ‘am I voting for a good looking guy who talks well but who is actually spineless?’ 

"We need to see this crisis as the bigger crisis of our environment and how we need to change. We desperately need to rejuvenate the balance in nature because that is really the buffer between these kind of catastrophes and us being able to live in harmony with all organisms."

The SA government have agreed to lift the export ban as of today, 1 May. The HeadStart Trust is appealing worldwide for support funds to help save people from starvation during the lockdown. Bruce Jack decided last week to go ahead and publish the Jack Journal for free. 

This Author

Nick Breeze is a climate change journalist & interviewer, an organiser of The Cambridge Climate Lecture Series, as well as writing on Envisionation.co.uk and SecretSommelier.com - follow on Twitter at @NickGBreeze.

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