The heart-rending downcast faces of the peckish villagers at his door and the disheartened voices on the other end of the phone – all making desperate pleas for food – have been overwhelming for Chief Livhuwani Matsila.
It all started in March with small groups of people coming to his house in Matsila village just outside Makhado in Limpopo.
They left with a small package of food, including vegetables from his garden. But he soon realised that the demand was much bigger.
“People are unable to fend for themselves due to the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown regulations. They are now dependent on government and Good Samaritans for their daily bread,” Matsila said.
Matsila said he was forced by circumstances to roll up his sleeves and swing into action.
“I have been spending time at home in compliance with the lockdown regulations but I couldn’t just fold my arms any more when people were going to bed on empty stomachs.
"People from my community came knocking on my door, some from as far afield as Thohoyandou,” the chief said.
“I was inundated with calls from people asking for food as well as other traditional leaders and civic organisations requesting help for their communities. I realised that the problem was actually bigger than it appeared.”
Matsila, a former ANC caucus leader in Parliament, holds a Master’s degree in ecology.
He said to complement what he had through his Radzambo Foundation, he started mobilising donors to help.
“The response was good and in no time we had food parcels being distributed. But the more we gave out, the more people came through asking for food.
"It is very sad when you can only give a very few [people] and watch others go back home empty-handed,” he said.
“We recently had a bigger consignment – in partnership with the Kolisi, Mandela and Imbumba foundations – through which more than 600 families received food parcels.
"The Rugby World Cup winning captain, Siya Kolisi and former footballer Kaizer Motaung Jr, were among those who made a rare appearance in our village to deliver the food parcels. They spent some time getting the real feel of the people’s daily struggles.”
These donations were, according to Matsila, just a drop in the ocean given the escalating numbers of the needy.
“There are people whose livelihoods depend on them going out daily and working just so that their families do not go to bed hungry. But now they can’t, given the lockdown regulations.
“We have sad stories of orphans or child-headed households which are forced to visit relatives daily just so they can eat that day. Others are forced to loiter in the villages in search of food and sadly, in contravention of the lockdown regulations,” he said.
“We have helped more than 600 families so far but we have on our books more than 2 000 families in desperate need of food.
“That number will soon triple. My plea to our people out there is, please think of the less fortunate during this time and assist in your areas with the little that you can. Help put a meal on the table for many,” Matsila said.
He said the water scarcity situation in parts of Limpopo was not helping.
“Firstly, people cannot even have backyard gardens because you need lots of water to maintain them.
"It is sad that we are entering the winter season and no rain can be expected. Yet we expect the same people to wash their hands often, for at least 20 seconds. With which water?
“Many villages have no water while they are surrounded by dams and rivers with pipelines running through these communities taking water to the nearby towns leaving them struggling.
"We also had boreholes drilled and but left unequipped in projects that were abandoned due to alleged corruption.
“Villages are now dependent on portable water which is brought by tankers. Millions of rands are poured into these project but they are not a long-term solution.
"If things were done right, including water provision, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic would definitely be minimal on our people.”
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