Communication and use of acknowledged tribal hierarchies ensured that communities in the Vhembe District, Limpopo received food parcels essential for their survival during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Communication and use of acknowledged tribal hierarchies ensured that communities in the Vhembe District, Limpopo received food parcels essential for their survival during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Effective aid requires communication and honouring tradition, says Old Mutual

By Partnered Content Time of article published Jun 12, 2020

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Move away from the nation's cities into the heartland of South Africa, and you will find that traditions, leadership and time-tested values are deeply rooted in communities. Work within these systems, says Old Mutual, and when issues such as Covid-19 threaten, the result is a win-win position for both the donor and the people benefiting from corporate donations campaigns.

Within Limpopo, where settlements are often far from urban areas, poverty is widespread. Battling every day to find food and fill empty stomachs is an unavoidable part of life. Meeting the needs of people living on the edges of the economy, however, is a finely-balanced process that requires a deep understanding of what people must have rather than what they would like to have, and the dignity to which they are entitled.

For companies operating within an environment like Limpopo, it is therefore important that consideration is given to how communication with communities should take place and how traditional leadership structures are honoured. 

The importance of these principles and how they can be used to open discussions and deliver aid was recently demonstrated in the province where programmes aimed at relieving the threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic were undertaken.

In fact, says Thato Mahapa, Old Mutual Provincial Management Board Chairperson for Limpopo, communication and use of acknowledged tribal hierarchies ensured that the poorest people in the Vhembe District received food parcels essential for their survival.

"Limpopo is one of the most impoverished provinces in South Africa.  As corporate citizens, we regularly reach out to the entire province with CSI investments that are based on local requests identified by our various business channels and are then referred to us for discussion and possible action. As Covid-19 spread across the country, it became obvious that Old Mutual would be requested to help where it could," says Mahapa.

"As in other provinces, a special budget was provided for our Covid-19 efforts in Limpopo. Because of our strong relationship with health authorities, we started with a programme for healthcare workers. We then met with the Premier's Office to assist us in identifying other areas requiring assistance and had discussions with the Department of Social Development. As a result of our discussions, it was agreed that we should not only provide personal protective equipment (PPE) across selected areas but also work in the Vhembe District where people urgently needed assistance with food."


Old Mutual Limpopo, working together with the Old Mutual Foundation and the Nelson Mandela, Siya Kolisi and Imbuma Foundations, poured their support into the "Each1 Feed 1" and "Soap 4 Hope" campaigns to bringing relief to the most vulnerable people in the district.

It was when the process of identifying people requiring food parcels and the planning of the logistics began that the traditional leadership structures came to the fore.

Using the established hierarchy and systems by working from "the top" to win acceptance for the planned distribution began in earnest. Consulting with recognised local leaders ensured that the correct guidelines and programmes were adopted and that all concerned bought into the food distribution plans.

Most importantly, problems such as the misallocation of vital aid and distribution management errors were avoided. The final step in the consultation process across the hierarchy included the herdsmen operating as representatives of the chief within local groups. Within their settlements and villages, it was the herdsmen who recommended on the allocation of food and who should be considered for assistance. 

"The local protocols also required that the heads of the selected household be consulted.  What also had to be considered was the language used during all levels of discussions. People in Limpopo are proud of their mother tongue and wished to use it during deliberations and planning of the food distribution process," says Mahapa.


"We realise that providing food parcels is an urgent, once-off intervention and not a long-term solution. However, given the Covid-19 circumstances and current demands within the province, it was a priority activity that Old Mutual in the province willingly adopted.”

“We will continue to support the societies in which we work. We will help through focused CSI programmes that have a longer duration and provide sustainable benefits for people who are economically and socially disadvantaged. But, when problems like Covid-19 occur within our society, Old Mutual will always be ready to assist,” concludes Mahapa.

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