Covid-19 Fault Lines

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Covid-19 Fault Lines

Photographer: Kim Ludbrook


In the barren expanses of the Karoo (great dry land) in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, a perfect storm of circumstances has had a major and devastating effect on the local people.

Three months of Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown, a harsh seven-year drought, and ongoing impact of the general economic slowdown over the past years along with an ill-prepared local and provincial government have left the vast majority of the local people under financial, physical and spiritual pressure.

Although Covid-19 has only recently started to take lives, the lockdown implemented by the national government to flatten the curve of infections in South Africa already has a major impact on the region.

Local businesses like hunting, tourism, and farming have seen massive job losses, which had a domino effect on the already poor communities. One job loss means that an entire family is affected because most households only have one breadwinner. Many local farms had to lay off their workers who have now moved from the remote farms to the towns to seek food and employment. Hunting has stopped and associated industries like the local taxidermy, who is a major employer in Graaff Reneit, is facing a bleak future. Another negative impact on the very religious local communities has been the fact that many of the churches are still not open and local reverends and preachers have to do their sermons via live streaming and WhatsApp.

The crisis has also impacted mothers of the tiny hamlet of Nieu Bethesda. The town is so small it has no ATM or petrol station and relies on tourism for its income. As the lockdown banned all travel and tourism in the country, the mothers who gave birth to 'corona children' during the lockdown would be in a dire situation without outside assistance for food and nappies.

Helping these mothers, and tens of thousands in the district, is the South African non-governmental organization Gift of the Givers. Centered in the regional capital town of Graaff Reinet, 750 kilometers from Johannesburg, the NGO is bringing critical aid to the people most in need in the harsh and semi-desert region. The foundation is the largest disaster response, non-governmental organization of African origin on the African continent, and since its inception in 1992 has been responsible for the delivery of life-saving goods and on-the-ground support in more than 43 countries across the globe, including South Africa. Gift of the Givers often drive hundreds of kilometers each day through the baron expanses between the local towns to give food to the likes of old age homes, military veterans, schools, churches, and new mothers. They are the only active response to this crisis at the moment in the area.

The fault lines in this harsh and inhospitable Karoo are clear to see, and one hopes that with the community standing together and helping each other, they may weather this perfect storm of circumstances.