Earlier this month Leonette Smit delivered 70 masks to taxi drivers and 125 masks to the Mooi River Security Company.
Earlier this month Leonette Smit delivered 70 masks to taxi drivers and 125 masks to the Mooi River Security Company.

10MillionMasks: Two mask heroes spread Ubuntu in Potch

By Kathy Berman Time of article published Apr 28, 2020

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Potchefstroom - When Leonette Smit returned to her hometown of Potchefstroom to be close to her 93-year-old mother, after spending more than three years in Vanwyksvlei, a small town in the Northern Cape, she had to build up a new community – again.

It seems that this is what Smit does with panache. The modest but charismatic wife of a retired army chaplain, Smit has spent her life sowing seeds of faith and goodwill as the family upped and moved homes according to her husband’s postings over the years. With each move, Smit reached out to the local communities and assisted them with work set-ups, while helping many earn livelihoods with whatever skills they possessed.

A maths and science teacher, Smit established regional craft groups, creating intricate crocheted earrings, pendants and jewellery from upcycled plastic materials – in addition to her teaching duties. 

As soon as Smit arrived in Potchefstroom, she upskilled herself. She applied for, and was admitted to a creative social entrepreneurial accelerator funded by the British Council in Johannesburg, and diligently made the journey through, lapping up as much as she could about running an efficient, and profitable, social enterprise. 

And she also learnt all about networking with the under-35 creatives. From being at a loss as to how to find a market for the product, she was already collaborating with a small group of homeless crafters in Potchefstroom, and in between sessions, Smit learnt how to trawl the internet and found a local craft market operating from a disused flour mill. She set up a stall there and started selling.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Smit has partnered with NGO  10MillionMasks in the manufacturing of face masks, along with Diana De Sa and the Local Chapter.

De Sa was one of the first volunteers on the programme and said she received a Whatsapp message from a group she belonged to just as shutdown began. It was a call to join 10MillionMasks. 

“The website wasn’t even up yet, but I downloaded the PDF and called the phone number – and got started!” 

A graphic designer, De Sa is a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher at the North West University. Having spent five years in Taiwan as a TEFL teacher, she is qualified to assist people keen to head overseas and earn an honest living in foreign countries. She also represents a Chinese recruitment company, “Laowai Here”. Laowai means foreigner in Mandarin. 

“Laowai came all the way to Potchefstroom to present to the students two years ago,” she explains. Impressed by this effort, De Sa landed up working for the company to find reliable positions for my students. Laowai’s visit spurred her into action and through the organisational coverage of the instantaneous call to action by citizens and foreign volunteers in Chengdu, China, when Covid-19 first struck, De Sa knew that this was absolutely the right thing to do.

And so, these two unlikely “mask heroes”, Smit and De Sa found themselves thrown together by both the coronavirus and the call of 10MillionMasks to serve their community. And they are. Both mask heroes and seven others, who in turn work with their immediate families and friends making or delivering, sanitising or producing the instructions, are continuing to keep the movement successful. Smit has arranged four drop-off points in Potchefstroom at the local grocery stores and petrol stations.

Earlier this month Smit delivered 70 masks to taxi drivers and 125 masks to the Mooi River Security Company. Currently, they have an order for 200 masks for the Disaster Control group in Potchefstroom. 

While De Sa confesses to not being a whiz at sewing, she is committed to the project and is working on a borrowed sewing machine. 

Meanwhile Smit is finding that her world during lockdown is very full. Aside from tending to the needs of her mother, and ministering to the communities she had already connected with in the past year, she has a daily Whatsapp date at bedtime with her grandchildren in Upington reading bedtime stories. This activity has now escalated to include a huge group of appreciative youngsters (and parents who are exhausted from home-schooling). Proof indeed that times like these nurture resilience and tenacity. 

10MillionMasks is an NGO that calls on South Africans to help get 10 million fabric masks to the people who need them. 10MillionMasks has partnered with Independent Media to drive the "Heroes don't wear capes, they wear masks" campaign. 

Make your own mask:

Download and print our easy to use cut-out pattern for a face mask, follow the step-by-step instructions on how to make it. Then be a hero too, make your mask and wear it.

Then take a picture of you and your family wearing your masks, post it on  IOL's Facebook page and you could stand a chance to win a R500 Loot voucher.

For more information and to be a part of the Heroes Don't Wear Capes, They Wear Masks campaign, please send an email to [email protected] 


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