Maverick Citizen: Right to food

Recycling food ‘waste’: A day on the road with SA Harvest 

Left, Victor Mpofu, SA Harvest driver and Mam Carol Dyantyi founder of Ikageng. (Photo by Michelle Banda)

Maverick Citizen spent a day with SA Harvest’s Joburg branch manager and driver Victor Mpofu to get a better understanding of the organisation’s operations and how it has gained so much momentum in the space of 18 months.

It is 8am on Thursday at the SA Harvest warehouse in Johannesburg. Clients are already calling Victor Mpofu to schedule a time for his team to rescue and distribute food to those in need. Most of the food to be rescued is starch or carbohydrates. 

Ikageng staff show off foodstuffs worth R10 000 recently delivered to them by SA Harvest. (Photo by Michelle Banda)

The morning is bustling. “We are always busy here. We have no time to waste,” says Mpofu, known as Captain by his team.

His responsibilities include making sure that whatever food they collect is edible, maintaining good relations with clients and sometimes collecting and distributing food himself. 

Mpofu and the team use refrigerated trucks to collect and deliver the “rescued” food. Depending on their schedule, the day starts with a trip to the warehouse where the team assesses how much food they have to distribute. They also coordinate the “rescues” for the day.

By 9am, pickups and drop-offs begin. During the day, new calls come in and drivers have to be diverted.

Later, the team meets back at the warehouse to record how much they have collected and to see if any perishable products need immediate distribution. In cases like these, arrangements are made to distribute the food at nearby taxi ranks and shops. Non-perishable food is stored in the warehouse.

“This job is a calling for me and I pride myself in what I do. For most of my life, I have been in the hospitality and tourism sector working with different clients, so I’m very good with people. 

The team packs the truck for distribution at the SA Harvest warehouse Joburg branch. (Photo by Michelle Banda)

“I use the skill as my frame of reference to build, expand and foster friendships with the people and organisations we work with. But I must say, my soft spot is for children. It gives me great satisfaction to be their beacon of hope through the provision of these nutritious meals. 

“I’ve always wanted to do something from the heart, and this is why I wake up every day, because it’s all worth it,” says Mpofu.

According to CEO Alan Browde, SA Harvest is based on four pillars: food rescue, education, nutrition and innovation. 

The first pillar is focused on saving perishable and non-perishable food from supermarkets, farms and shops — but predominantly from the four big supermarket chains.

The other pillars involve helping people to become aware of food waste, food rescue, food security and nutrition. Browde says the process of alleviating hunger cannot succeed as a one-man show — communities should be involved in the process and share ideas that can be innovative and sustainable in the long run. 

As an example, he mentions work they are doing with the Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre in Mamelodi, teaching hydroponics and aeroponics in the hope that it “becomes a hub of training”.

For the past 18 months, Mpofu has been rescuing and distributing meals to SA Harvest’s many beneficiary organisations in Johannesburg. 

Today’s food rescue trip took us to Norwood Pick n Pay where R10,000 worth of starch foods — including samp, rice, potatoes and mielie meal — was collected. The food was to be distributed at Ikageng, a home-based care facility in Orlando West, Soweto. 

At Ikageng we met Carol Dyantyi, founder of the organisation. Through her home-based facility, Dyantyi caters for people in need of food within her community. However, her priorities are children living with HIV/Aids or those who have lost their parents and guardians to Aids, single parent-headed homes and households exposed to cramped living conditions, poor sanitary conditions, inadequate food, and rampant drug and alcohol abuse.

“I remember last year when lockdown was first introduced, life was hard for everyone, including us, and donations were in short supply, meaning we couldn’t cater for our people. My biggest worry was that some of the people benefiting from Ikageng are on anti-retrovirals and going hungry would be disastrous. 

“In our darkest hour, SA Harvest stepped in by providing nutritious meals… It’s probably one of the reasons we are still standing. We will be forever grateful to SA Harvest for these foodstuffs they deliver once or twice a week. They go a long way for the community of Orlando West,’’ said Dyantyi.

For Mpofu and his team, their work with SA Harvest has been a positive story, yet it remains complicated by these harsh times.

“We might not be where we want to be, but I believe we are moving in the right direction.” DM/MC


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