Meet our Lockdown Heroes winner and other inspiring South Africans
Here is the winner of the competition and highlights from other entries
We asked you to find SA’s lockdown heroes, and you answered. Hundreds of nominations poured in weekly, telling us heart-warming stories of people making a difference in their communities.
It was tough for our judging panel to award the prize, a R15,000 local holiday package each for our deserving lockdown hero and for the nominator. Many of you nominated President Cyril Ramaphosa and health minister Zweli Mkhize, as well as celebrities and other well-known South Africans like Siya Kolisi who were helping people in need. Then there were the medical staff, social workers, police officers and other essential people on the front lines, whose efforts sustained us during the lockdown. A fair number of entries saluted the moms and dads, husbands, wives, and partners who stayed strong and cared for their families, often under difficult circumstances.
But the stories that stood out were those of ordinary citizens who stepped up to do what they could, often without any money or other resources. While some used their business connections to launch innovative aid programmes feeding thousands, others quietly started helping those around them with food and other necessities. And one such person was Sandra Tshisa of Khayelitsha in the Western Cape. Read more about her below, as well as a few highlights from other entries we received.
Want to help any of our hundreds of lockdown hero nominees? E-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
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Thank you, South Africa, for playing your part during the Covid-19 lockdown.
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Nominated by Tanya van Tonder
As the lockdown sank its teeth into Khayelitsha, Sandra Tshisa, a resident since 2004, noticed children in her street going hungry. There were already soup kitchens and other food schemes in the township, but the need was just too great to get to everyone. So she started to cook for these children on the two-plate stove in her small house, feeding up to 30 kids on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“Depending on the weather, I make some porridge, pap, butternut soup, carrot soup or cabbage soup,” she says. “Normally I make sure Mondays are rice, pap or samp. If the weather is too cold, I also add some sausage.”
The children she helped told others who were desperate for food, and the numbers grew. “Thanks to some donations, I bought a big pot,” she says — and now she can serve a hot meal to nearly 60 children.
But her support goes beyond a bowl of soup. She teaches the children about the virus, and she doesn’t want them wandering the streets, risking exposure. “I also keep them busy with crayons and paper. I give it to them on Monday, then they have ‘homework’ to stay indoors and colour on Tuesday, then they bring it back on Wednesday to get more. On Fridays, I give them two papers.”
Tshisa’s friend Tanya van Tonder, who nominated her for Lockdown Heroes, heard about her efforts and set up a small website at www.give4good.co.za to support her via donations.
Prizes are sponsored by Flight Centre, which remains committed to keeping your travel dreams alive as the situation surrounding Covid-19 continues to evolve.
Other lockdown hero highlights
Nominated by Pearl Mngomezulu
Randburg resident Tameka Mngomezulu and her cousins had wanted to support struggling communities for some time, and then the coronavirus pandemic struck.
“We realised the lockdown caused such extreme risk for people who were now unemployed, or living below the breadline, so we wanted to cater to those people who were now completely stranded and facing levels of hunger worse than anything we can imagine,” she says.
Though now unemployed herself, Mngomezulu contributed what money she could, and from the start of May the cousins started visiting Alexandra, Vosloorus, Soweto and Katlehong to distribute care packages costing them about R100 per package to put together. “We asked people for donations and used our own contributions, and we fed just under 200 families,” she says.
Now, however, they have run out of funds to buy more goods for these care packages — but Mngomezulu is determined to keep looking for donations and do more.
Nominated by Zipho Buthelezi
Fanele Mnguni grew up in KwaThema, Gauteng, and knew there was no way that people would practise social distancing during the lockdown. “These people wake up and don’t know how they are going to feed themselves. How do you expect them to stay home?”
So, taking R1,000 of his own money, he asked a spaza shop owner about the cheapest thing on the menu — and so began Mnguni’s kota initiative. Not only has he distributed more than 20,000 kotas around various areas in Joburg, but he has also kept the spaza owners in business and, in some cases, hired taxis to transport the kotas.
Soon, people started raising money and wanted to give it to him to support his initiative. But he turned it down, saying they should go into their local communities and feed people there. “I like empowering people. God has been faithful to me and to see people who are struggling so much — one man had a mattress as a door — and to know that I have fed them, helped them stay home and provided other people with jobs, has been part of God’s plan.”
He says he is most proud to have inspired other people to do more than donate and take action themselves.
Nominated by Nadia de Lange
When lockdown started in late March, Dumisani Sevias had no idea how he would feed his family. He had been doing part-time jobs, barely making ends meet, when his pittance of an income was wiped out. He searched Facebook for feeding schemes, appealing for food for himself, his girlfriend and child. Help came from Nadia de Lange, and with his belly full, he realised he had to return the blessing.
“The way I had suffered, I knew I could do this for other people. I had to give back just the way I was helped.”
A resident of Diepsloot, Johannesburg, Sevias now focuses on helping his community, where many newborn babies are going hungry while elderly people have no help. He is now an administrator of the Diepsloot Community Action Network group on Facebook and works with the Gauteng Together initiative to feed and clothe community members.
Nominated by Bongi Gamede
Landy Yeatman received several nominations. As a moderator on the “I Love Randburg” Facebook page, she is well known in the community for helping those in need, whether by providing clothes or simply being a shoulder to lean on.
A recent breast cancer survivor, she says it was the kindness of strangers, some even helping her with medical bills, that inspired her to return the goodness.
She started a purge in her home to get rid of things she considered treasures. This led to people turning to her when they needed help, and soon she became a facilitator of sorts.
She began her own initiative called People4Purpose and, during lockdown, embarked on a massive maize drive, collecting more than half a ton of maize meal to distribute to the vulnerable. She remains in awe of her community, on which she relies to help support those in need.
Nominated by Anesh Ramklass
A community activist working with the Nelson Mandela Community Youth Centre in Chatsworth, KwaZulu-Natal, Clive Pillay says nothing beats generosity and being kind during this pandemic. “I’ve been an activist for almost all my life and I’ll continue being an activist to bring about change and help the community,” he says.
The youth centre formed a coronavirus action committee to supply the community with personal protective equipment such as masks, sanitiser and gloves. It also organised lessons for children to prevent a total loss of the school year while schools were shut. These lessons are aired on a local station, Radio Hindvani, on weekday evenings, mostly aimed at grade 12 students, says Pillay.
He says the community has supported the centre with donations. “All funds that have been donated to the youth centre have been from community members and businesses. The donations also go into buying food that we distribute to those in need.”
Nominated by Doneit Khumalo
From sheltering the LGBTQI+ community to raising funds during the lockdown, Dumisani Dube of the LGBTI+ ministry at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, has been a lifeline for many.
He has been raising funds to buy food and hygiene supplies for members of the church. “Because of the lockdown, things have changed a bit as we can't see each face to face. So we've created a Skype group where we talk about protective measures and other personal issues that people are going through.
He says most of the members of the church don’t have parents and some stay alone, so staying in touch with them via WhatsApp and Skype helps close that gap.
The group also helps foreign nationals who are unemployed and not receiving the government's special coronavirus grant.
“The struggles of our members sparked the idea to create the group. You cannot be a leader and not think about the health care of others,” says Dube. “If I am struggling myself, I could only imagine how others are coping. Our funds are raised within communities to cover the costs for those who don't have anything. We also pay their rent and buy them masks and gloves.”
Nominated by Mojalefa Wally Nathana
Dorcas Motseki from QwaQwa, Phuthaditjhaba, cares for 60 children from her community through her organisation, We Care, founded in 2018. She does not receive government funding and relies on the community for donations.
The plight of orphans and youngsters from child-headed homes was the main reason Motseki founded We Care, which she runs from a one-room shack in her yard.
At first, getting enough donations to help needy children proved difficult. “We used to stand in malls and ask people for donations, but because no-one knew us, many were hesitant to open their wallets and help. But our work speaks for itself and we now get calls to come and collect donations. People know us now.”
Community members donate as little as R100 each but, combined with other contributions, every rand makes a difference.
During the lockdown, We Care has been supplying kids with school uniforms and shoes — and, as the need for food also became apparent when many people lost their jobs, Motseki has been providing food parcels to 20 families, feeding 60 children and donating face masks.
Nominated by John Mudumbi
Eugenie Barhume is a single mother who did not let her circumstances keep her from helping Cinyabuguma Bashi, an organisation that houses refugees in Cape Town. She has raised R8,270 to buy food parcels for the refugees who depend on the organisation for survival.
Cinyabuguma Bashi means “all together” and serves as a constant reminder of unity, especially during these unprecedented times. Barhume is a member of the organisation and volunteers at the St Vincent de Paul Catholic church in the city.
She raised the money by asking friends to spread the word that people were in need. “Refugees face many challenges like xenophobia and no food, and the best I could offer to my family was love and food.”
Nominated by Pakiso Mafura
Logageng in the North West has been hit hard by the lockdown. Many people are no longer working and are not grant beneficiaries, so they have come to rely on any form of charity.
Community activist Godsend Mokgope saw the need for food erupt when the lockdown began. He rallied businesses in the area and got companies and people to supply food parcels. He uses his own transport to deliver these parcels, funding the daily trips out of his own pocket.
Making his rounds, he also noticed that some families living in mud homes were in danger as their homes were close to collapsing. He then used his own corrugated iron to build more sustainable structures for three families.
Mokgope doesn’t see anything special about what he has done. “I just saw people in need and wanted to do what I could to make a difference.”
Lucas ‘Chippa’ Mtsweni
Nominated by Progress Nkosi
Mtsweni wakes up at 5am daily and heads off to bakeries to collect bread to feed hundreds of hungry people in Phola township, Mpumalanga. Using his own car and petrol, he drives around the community to hand out loaves of bread. Since the lockdown started, he says, children have stayed home, adding to the “hunger burden” of families.
His initiative, which he describes as an act to “uphold the dignity of people”, has become well known in the community. It is mostly destitute families living in squalor and farmworkers who benefit from his help.
He has received no government help and relies on donations and the assistance of small businesses. Mtsweni says spending his day helping people where he can is “enough for him” in life.
Profiles by Riaan Wolmarans, Jessica Levitt, Cebelihle Bhengu and Unathi Nkanjeni