Nelson Mandela Foundation

A woman receives oranges at an E1 F1 food distribution at Bodibe Nelson Mandela Foundation

It sounds fictional that you can find the "middle of nowhere" in a developing economy and country like South Africa. Many people in South Africa and other countries who are forgotten outside of election years and live in arid spaces that might be described as “nowhere” do not often recognise this reality.

Over the past few months, I have travelled with the A-team of the Each 1 Feed 1 campaign, Isaac Pooe, Mandla Dakada, and Fikile Gama, across the country to reach families affected by Covid-19 and require the most basic needs to live a dignified life.

The Foundation has been working very hard to put marginalised, discarded and forgotten people at the centre. This project, in particular, tried to locate those who live in areas that are not easily reachable.

We have been to all nine provinces’ most secluded and remote communities, relying on our trusted GPS apps. It did not occur to us that we would find the "middle of nowhere" on our GPS apps in June 2020. Well, there are children, mothers, fathers and communities in the middle of "nowhere" who belong to South Africa and have a stake in the South African story.

It was a wonder to see a navigation app signal “middle of nowhere". Maybe this was a technical fault since technology is not infallible – but the app wrote this more than once when we were in this community. Perhaps the Google car never covered this area, even though the area has been in existence for hundreds of years. Or maybe cellphone coverage is weak in this location. Nevertheless, "nowhere" is a farm community called Schoemanfontein, located on the outskirts of Klerksdorp in North West province.

We found the people we were looking for from the beneficiary list, ready to receive their food packs. The formidable Each 1 Feed 1 team and I went on to do what we do best: we coordinated food deliveries, offloaded and on-loaded the allocated food, and ensured that the numbers of beneficiaries were correct.

It was not long before some of the men in the community came and helped offload and pack items for the families, while the mothers ensured everyone observed regulated safety measures. How did they know all of this? Who told them about social distancing? Do they know about the periodic briefings by the president?

Since they had cellphones, perhaps they had electricity – but it was not easy to tell on an overcast and cold day in June. The men told stories of lives they once lived in Gomora (Alexandra, Johannesburg), and this was possibly a sign of a community not shut off from the world, but still linked to some civilisation of a developed country.

It was surprising to find the community of Oblate living in the middle of a mealie field; they were surrounded by food and yet had nothing to eat. The thing is, the mealies around them are not theirs but are the farmers, and for the previous four months they had not been able to  work and had no income to support their families. It is a wonder that you can be surrounded by food but still be hungry.

We took pictures to tell the story, practising social distancing, sanitising, and treating the 30 to 50 beneficiaries with dignity and respect within the two hours we had before we moved to another community.

We hope that they know their country’s Constitution and their rights, and have an understanding that they are more than a number in the statistics of South Africa; that their vote has the power to decide a president or a political party. I guess we can only wish this because asking these questions might have found us doing more than distributing the food they needed.

The families who stay in Oblate often comprise several generations in one household. It is sad that GPS apps do not fully recognise them. One hopes the younger generation will soon be aware of this and be part of the change.

This community does not need acknowledgement from some app, but pertinent questions make me wonder many things about people who look like myself, and who have dreams and ambitions for a life better than what they know.