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Covid-19: Unemployment destroying hinges on the ‘Door...

South Africa

IN DISTRESS

Covid-19: Unemployment destroying hinges on the ‘Doorway to the Karoo’ 

Gift of the Givers line up food parcels on the street for delivery at Touws River, January 27, 2021. Groups of five people at a time collect the parcels, starting with the aged and wheelchairs users. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

Touws River, a small town along the N1 in the Western Cape, has been devastated by the economic effects of Covid-19, with more and more residents relying on soup kitchens to survive.

“A ghost town” is how soup kitchen co-founder Rashaad Baker described his hometown of Touws River (Touwsrivier), an old railway town along the N1 highway in the Western Cape. 

With the prolonged Covid-19 lockdown, many of the town’s residents have become unemployed and dependant on soup kitchens for food.

Touws River is an old railway town about 180km from Cape Town, a two-hour journey by car. 

Ali Sablay, project manager at humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers Foundation, told Daily Maverick he had been receiving calls for assistance from Baker and soup kitchen co-founder Daphne van der Merwe, since October 2020.  

Touws River residents line up to receive food parcels on January 27, 2021. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

Desperate situation

Employers in and around the town have been cutting back on jobs, while some businesses have been forced to close operations altogether. In July 2020, Aquila Game Reserve, one of the area’s biggest employers, offered a “Save Now, Safari Later” promotion special — this in an effort to reinvigorate declining tourism, in the wake of 500 of the reserve’s workers being temporarily laid off due to Covid-19 and having to rely on unemployment incentives.  Commuter Transport Engineering — another vital source of employment in the town, has closed down, adding to further joblessness.  

Touws River has a population of 8,751 people according to the Statistics South Africa 2011 Census, with only 35,4% of the population employed. 10 years on, Sablay said the town suffers an unemployment rate of 93%.

Touwsriver on January 27 2021,: the railway is dysfunctional and vandalised. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)
The Commuter Transport Engineering (CTE) factory, a main source of employment for residents, has closed down, 27 January, 2021. (Photo: Brenton Geach / Gallo)

Employment opportunities in the region remain scarce 

The Breede Valley Municipality, into which Touwsrivier is incorporated, had provided jobs for fewer than 50 people, according to Baker. The municipality’s main offices are in Worcester, about 70km away from Touws River. 

Two local Touws River supermarkets employed a handful of people.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the town’s residents found work on farms in the surrounding area, at the transport company and at the reserve. The town is labelled as a “doorway to the Karoo”, as it is situated along the R62 wine route. 

Sablay told Daily Maverick he first visited the town in December 2020, to deliver 300 food parcels to the community. “There is nothing happening there,” he said. 

Last week, Gift of the Givers delivered 250 food parcels, non-perishable bulk supplies to Baker and Van der Merwe’s soup kitchen for distribution to the destitute community, along with sweets, chips and chocolates for the town’s children

“One lady said we bought Christmas for the children,” said Sablay. 

Children sit on the pavement while waiting to collect packets of chips from Gift of the Givers, which distributed food parcels to families on January 27, 2021, in Touws River, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)
Children who received a bag of goodies from Gift of the Givers walk through the all-but-deserted street in Touws River, January 27, 2021. (Photo: Brenton Geach / Gallo)

Baker told Daily Maverick that his soup kitchen has been registered as a non-profit organisation, under the moniker “Compassionate Hearts”. It initially provided meals to between 20 and 30 children when the kitchen opened in July 2020. “You can’t say no to a hungry child when he or she says they are hungry,” he said. The kitchen now feeds 400 people. 

It provides meals for the community twice a week — sometimes the only substantial meals that families in the area get. At times, the soup kitchen has had to turn people away because of a lack of supplies, which Baker said was “heart-wrenching”. 

The soup kitchen has had support from a local supermarket, but Baker said this was also dependent on the available budget.

Residents receive food parcels on 27, 2021, in Touws River, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)
Residents of Touws River hang around waiting for Gift of the Givers to distribute food parcels on January 27, 2021 in Touws River, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

Gift of the Givers has since adopted the soup kitchen. “Their help and assistance have become invaluable,” said Baker. 

Baker explained that Touws River was in dire straits and in need of help. There were no Home Affairs or Labour Department offices for the unemployed to access services such as the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Residents needed to travel to Worcester or else De Doorns — 40 km away — to access services.  

Due to the lack of employment in the town, Baker said “it’s becoming a ghost town” and added, “it’s a forgotten town, people just drive through.” 

Baker added, “What this town needs is reskilling. Youth needs to become skilled.”

According to the latest available figures, on 29 January, Touwsriver has had 235 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 37 active cases. The town has had eight Covid-19-related deaths 

Baker told Daily Maverick the number of cases could be more — as there is “still shame” in speaking openly about testing positive for Covid-19. DM

A general view of Touwsriver on January 27, 2021.  (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected] 

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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All Comments 7

  • World overpopulation is the root of all problems. Economies should quote GDP per capita, not only GDP. South Africa should have a “Family Planning Benefit” to reduce the number of unwanted children. Think!

    • Not to mention systemic collapse of all the SOEs, municipalities and endemic corruption that is now visibly affecting our most vulnerable populations all over small towns in South Africa.

  • I am not sure why Pres Ramaphosa thought that the Cuban Doctors should be nominated for a Noble peace Prize – as he announced in his Home Talk last night. They are extremely well paid – possibly much more than if they were back in Cuba. It has been written before that Cuba gets a fair return financially for sending doctors around the world. Consequently, the humanitarian aspect is perhaps a bit overstated. If anyone should be nominated for a Noble Peace Prize it is Gift of the Givers who so often step in and help where the SA national, provincial and local government levels have, to put it bluntly, ‘made a total stuff-up and been crooked and useless’ – and where humanitarian disasters are unfolding as a consequence of governments inaction. Well done Gift of the Givers – it would be so nice if some of our taxes went directly to them for specific projects and upgrade. Kind regards to all.

  • If at the start of the 1st lockdown in 2020 the government had initiated market – home veggie gardens in Touws River these residents would by now have productive gardens and a source of some food. Its not too late to start these initiatives. Poles, shade cloth, spades, manure-compost from the Karoo farmers, a borehole or 2, seeds donated by the big suppliers – and the will to help themselves.

  • Covid-19 related deaths – 8. Response to Covid-19 – catastrophe and despair forced onto already abject poverty with related deaths yet to be counted.

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