Social media for social change: The Facebook post that fed an SA community

In Faces of Covid-19, BizNews documented the efforts of many South Africans who responded to food need in the country. One of the projects was driven by Kate Crossland, a British woman, who lived in South Africa for a number of years. It was a Facebook post about broken promises from the government that people would have food and water during the lockdown that spurred her into action. With the help of Crossland, Kelly Szabo who used to work for a health non-governmental organisation and her former housekeeper Lydia Mashapa, who is a local elder in the community of Allemansdrift B near Vaalbank, the community was not only fed – they have a borehole and are planning a resource centre. Crossland spoke to BizNews about how a post on Facebook and the generosity of people overseas with connections to South Africa, from the United Kingdom to Australia, set the wheels in motion to help an impoverished community. – Linda van Tilburg

Kate Crossland lived in South African from the age of five to 23 and still has family in the country to whom she returns to annually for a visit.  “I’ve always been aware of the hardship in a country where there isn’t any unemployment benefits and being poor is a very different concept to being poor in the UK.  I also realise that British pounds go a lot further than rands.”

Crossland follows a Facebook page called SA people – for South Africans in South Africa and expats run by Jenny Baxter that is followed by 262,271 people and on it a letter by President Cyril Ramaphosa was posted, in which he stated that everybody in South Africa would have access to water and food relief during lockdown.  There was however a comment on the post from a woman named Kelly Szabo who said, “that’s not the case in my community”.  Crossland said she was stunned to hear this and in a serious of private messages with Szabo from the beginning of June, she found out that the community was Allemansdrift B, a large rural community near Vaalbank with “huge poverty, because essentially there is no employment there.  There are a lot of elderly people who are bringing up grandchildren and there’s a lot of child-headed households. There is also an extreme need and intermittent water supply.”

Kate Crossland

Szabo’s connection to the village came through her former housekeeper, Lydia Mashaba who was an elder in the village.  “She’s been living with Lydia since January 2020 to resolve water issues and food poverty in the community. Kelly has 30 years of NGO training  in health care. So, she’s certainly the right person for them, they found an angel.  That is the reason why the fund raiser that I eventually set up is called ‘Angels of Allemansdrift B, because to me Lydia and Kelly are angels, doing what they are doing for their community.”

In the initial Facebook fundraiser, which had a limited duration, Crossland managed to raise £4,100 pounds, with which they fed 1009 families.  Crossland said she started off with a small donation, but realised that the 617 families that Szabo and Lydia had on their list was not going to be fed with a small donation. This prompted her to set up a fund raiser and she sent a request to friends “to see if I could get some UK engagement.”  She also asked Jenny Baxter who ran the Facebook group to share the post and “the night she posted the fundraiser, we hit £1000 pounds. “I truly believe that a lot of donors have come from Jenny’s generosity to share the fundraiser.”

The money raised by people with a connection to South Africa was not only used to feed the community. Shoprite Checkers helped to reduce the prices paid for food and sent a soup kitchen and blankets and there was also money for a ‘Food for Life’ event where people were given a hot meal and fruit and there was sweets for the kids.  “ There were a 100 people in Lydia’s back yard and Food for Life just turned up and managed it and fed everyone and it was a fantastic success.”

Kelly Szabo

“We’ve also been able to distribute mobility aids. So, lots of elderly people that have been trying to hobble around on crutches now have proper walkers, mobility aids that they can get around with and carry things.” Crossland said they realised that food parcels were giving support, but the ultimate goal was food sustainability.  There needed to be a regular supply of water in the area.

“One of the donors that came through the Facebook site was through an email from the Eniwe Children’s Fund, which is a trust set up by an expat in Australia, Robyn Gibson Burroso who initially donated £1000 for food parcels.”  “She offered to pay for a borehole  because we said that to create sustainability, we needed a regular supply of water.”  The borehole was drilled at the end of September on land that Lydia had inherited and gifted.

“And apparently there is roughly 200 people around three standpipes that have been created at any given time.”  This was in a village that went without tap water for 17 days.  “Now that there is an actual borehole supply of water, the dreams are getting bigger. We are looking at vegetable tunnels to be able to grow food, both to sell and to sustain people who need food support, but also to create a resource centre to train young people so that they have a reason to stay and to be able to create some income in the area.”

Lydia Mashapa pictured with Kelly Szabo’s daughter, Tyler Jacobs.

A disused building across from where Lydia lives have been earmarked for the resource centre and the intention is to create a place where elderly people could come with their grandchildren and have a cup of tea, while the children play in an area created for them.  “There would be a computer, a kind of an internet hub where children can be helped with writing CVs and learn to use computers.  People could be trained to become mechanics.”  Other ideas are to use the space to create Ndebele beadwork that can be sold without third party costs and to recycle paper to make toilet paper.  “There’s so many ideas coming out of having water and of having a group of people who are engaged and who want to help this community.”

Crossland said she believed the success of the Facebook group was that she thanked everybody that donated and she sent them a link to the updates of the projects which meant that people knew exactly where their money was being spent.  “ Whereas if you are just trawling through a new site and you decide to make a donation, quite often you make the donation and then you don’t know anything else about it and you’re not that engaged with it. So, we have 40 friends now in the Facebook group and those are donors that have repeatedly donated over the last three months.”

She said she thought that it was amazing in a time where there were so many scams and corruption that what they had achieved came because of trust and that people were still willing to read something, felt a connection and believed in it.

“It’s really lovely to see that people from all around the world want to help.” said Szabo.

The money raised went straight into Crosslands’ personal bank account, they had not organized a non-profit organisation yet, but she said it was all transparent and all the money processed were sent to Szabo as Shoprite vouchers that she purchased on Computicket and there were no overheads.  No-one was drawing a salary either.

“Everything goes straight into the community and it’s really lovely to see that people from all around the world, most have a connection to South Africa, want to help. That’s wonderful!

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