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Food aid, gender violence & SA's future: Bryan Habana speaks

'She was covered in blood and I felt helpless and anger at the same time'

28 May 2020 - 06:30 By Jessica Levitt
Bryan Habana says the pandemic has highlighted the divide between rich and poor in SA.
Bryan Habana says the pandemic has highlighted the divide between rich and poor in SA.
Image: Instagram/Bryan Habana

Her face was beaten, filled with cuts and bloodied. She was being carried by two men who were trying to get her to the ambulance that had just arrived. 

Rage, sorrow, sadness and helplessness filled him all at the same time. He didn't know what to do. Should he drop the parcel of food he was delivering to a destitute and disabled woman in Hangberg, Hout Bay, to help? Should he try to find out what happened to the woman who had been so badly beaten?

This is one reality that faced former Springbok Bryan Habana as he delivered food to those who have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

He told TimesLIVE it's a scenario that has always been in SA, only now with the lockdown as a result of the spread of the virus, poverty, food insecurity, homelessness and deplorable living conditions have been amplified.

“Physical distancing is not possible in disadvantaged communities or squatter camps. These are people who have been struggling for food and to make any kind of life for so long. The lockdown has made it even tougher. Physical distancing is impossible. In some cases, there are 6/7 people living together in one room. Then the affect of the lockdown on mental health ... it's a brutal situation.”

Changing directions

Established in 2015, the Bryan Habana Foundation typically focuses on youth leadership and empowerment. But with the pandemic, the former athlete turned entrepreneur said he recognised he needed to adjust the focus of his foundation because of the “incredible humanitarian need in SA”.

Partnering with Ozow Pay, an online payment system, Habana says his foundation aims to raise R1m that will go towards non-perishable food parcels that could feed a family for up to three weeks.

Whether he is packing the parcels, helping raise awareness about the effect of the lockdown in rural areas, or distributing the parcels himself, Habana says every person has a part to play.

“This is not about showboating. This is about me having a voice and using my platform to raise funds that can make a tangible difference to someone's life.”

Making a difference

Using his huge and influential social media following to his advantage, Habana remains humble, referring to the donations of other athletes around the globe like tennis players Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, as well as the efforts of SA rugby players Cheslin Kolbe and Siya Kolisi and his wife Rachel Kolisi.

“SA has a vast difference between rich and poor and this is really just an authentic effort to do something that can really help. The work that Siya and Rachel are doing, through the Kolisi Foundation, is incredible. Siya has publicly spoken about sometimes going to school just to get a sandwich with peanut butter and jam. So he knows first-hand the affect on people from impoverished communities.”

Habana says he has donated about R150,000 from his personal funds to contribute towards the food parcel drive and says that with the changing weather, the focus may change later to include blankets and warm clothes.

Men can do more

He says it has been humbling to witness pensioners who have not eaten in a day or two get food parcels. But it was the domestic violence incident that really struck a chord. So, what is he doing to change the narrative against women in his everyday life?

“I'm not perfect, nor do I preach to be. But I strive to be better and change and learn. I am respectful of my wife. I try to show my boys to respect women. Essentially, I try to lead the kind of life that I would want my boys to grow up in.”

He said it's also important not to turn a blind eye or let things slide when things are said in casual situations like on WhatsApp groups.

On catching a piece of the horror that is some people's lives, Habana said there are many challenges facing SA, and on coming out of the pandemic, it's important to be realistic about the damage.

“As South Africans, at our toughest time, a lot of good has come to light. There is a lot of negative and it's important to keep yourself in check and play your part.”