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Recovery and Reconstruction after COVID-19 pandemic in Kwelerha

Written by Anelitha Tukela

During the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa, women's livelihoods underwent significant changes as many were disproportionately affected by unemployment and income loss in sectors like hospitality and informal trade, while also grappling with increased care responsibilities due to school closures, facing heightened risks of gender-based violence in confined settings, encountering barriers in accessing digital platforms for work and services, experiencing disruptions in healthcare access and reproductive rights, and navigating varying degrees of support from government relief measures. These challenges were compounded by pre-existing inequalities based on socioeconomic status, race, and geographic location. These circumstances demanded personalized gender-responsive approaches to address the diverse and evolving impacts on women's lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women in Kwelerha stated that the aftermath of COVID-19 affected their livelihoods; their businesses are struggling post-pandemic because they state that prices of items they are selling have increased in shops and the items keep increasing but they still sell their products and goods with the same price as before COVID-19. One of the vendors at Kwelerha Primary School stated that the reason for her not increasing prices is that she is selling to primary school kids, and they don’t have money to buy expensive sweets. She says that she tried increasing prices and kids were not buying so she had to stick to one price if she wanted her business to operate. She states that she is not making any profit because she must take most of the money she makes and buy stock as things in town are expensive.

Plate 1: A woman’s bags of sweets to be sold to learners after school in at Kwelerha Primary School.

Furthermore, most women stated that their children lost jobs due to the COVID-19 lockdown and their adult children were the main providers of their households, however, these children decided to move back home because they could not find work and they couldn't afford to pay rent since they were no longer working. Therefore, since their children are not working all the roles and responsibilities of the household are done by their mothers using their pension grants.

However, with the change of livelihoods during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, women in Kwelerha found other alternative sources of income to change their livelihoods for the better, given they are not getting any assistance from the government. Most women have started using gardening as a source of income; as one woman stated, she started her garden so that she could supply local spaza shops in the community with vegetables. Her current problem is that she lacks funding to maintain that business and she has been applying for funding at the Department of Agriculture but that has not been a success. Other women in Kwelerha started their gardens for themselves to harvest vegetables because food is expensive. Harvesting vegetables from their gardens helps them not spend so much money on groceries. Other households also have hopes of planting crops, but they lack money to buy crops to plant.

Plate 2: A woman’s vegetable garden with crops for harvesting in Kwelerha.

The women of the community have asked for assistance from the ward councilor, and there was an agricultural project that was proposed where the Department of Agriculture would provide the community with crops to plant. The Department apparently wanted to encourage people to plant their gardens, and most of the women in the community were happy that they would get help with their gardening. On the other hand, the women also state that there were previous Agricultural projects in the community, and some of them failed while other projects were never implemented, so they now lack trust in these kinds of projects. This means that to harness the power of gardening in rural areas of South Africa, it's important to provide access to resources such as seeds, tools, training, and market access. Support from government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local communities can play a crucial role in promoting and sustaining gardening initiatives that lead to positive social, economic, and environmental outcomes.

Besides gardening, another alternative that is used by women in Kwelerha after the COVID-19 pandemic is livestock farming. Most of the household’s farm pigs, chickens, and goats. Pigs and goats are usually in demand in June and December when people are doing their traditional events ("imigidi”; “imicimbi") and traditional weddings. Livestock farming (pigs and goats) is usually a long-term investment for them because livestock does not generate money every month like selling vegetables from the garden would do. Women stated that they usually use the money made from selling that livestock during the traditional events season to build their homes. One woman stated that they have more than fifteen pigs that she sold in June and she made a lot of money that she is extending her shack. Women stated that they farm chickens to sell their meat to the community on credit; poultry farming generates a lot of money because they state that you either sell live chickens or meat and those chickens grow fast so every month you are selling. Poultry farming generates money every month and that helps women in Kwelerha to have an income. Overall, women stated the income made from livestock farming helps them a lot, as they can maintain their households and not depend much on the government.

Plate 3: A woman’s farming plot with chickens in Kwelerha.

Other strategies that women are using to generate income post-pandemic include starting spaza shop businesses or selling cooked food to schools and the community. One woman states that after the COVID-19 pandemic, she started making fat cakes (“Amagwinya”), which she sells at Kwelerha Primary School because she lost her job during the lockdown, and she had to find alternative ways to make income. She attributes her inability to find work to South Africa’s high unemployment rate. Another woman stated that she decided to become a vendor at Bongolethu High School in Tuba Village, and she sells Russians (a kind of sausage), sandwiches, and drinks. She states that the reason she started selling at a high school was that she discovered during the pandemic that her pension grant was not enough to sustain her household. She says that her two daughters have problems that require them to use money, so they do not contribute enough money and her son stopped working after COVID-19, which increased dependents in her household. She states that she is not the only one in her household who would sell goods for an extra income; her daughter sells sandwiches at work and her son sells potato chips at school. Now that she is selling at school and makes extra cash, her pension grant does not need to cover all expenses, so she can use her profit from selling to buy things like electricity.

In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible mark on people's livelihoods, sparking profound shifts across various aspects of society. The resilience and adaptability demonstrated by individuals and businesses underscores the importance of flexibility and continuous learning, as shown by women in Kwelerha who have had to find new ways of making an income. These include gardening, livestock farming, opening spaza shops, and small-scale trading.


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