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Social safety nets, community spirit help South African mother through Covid-19 crisis

05/05/2021

Around 40 km outside Cape Town, Leebah Bessick wipes sweat from her forehead as she digs a pitchfork into the earth at a neighbourhood community garden. It’s an unseasonably hot day here at Blackheath Secondary School and even a shady corner of the garden offers Bessick and the other gardeners little respite from the midday sun.

Still, she finds refuge here these days after enduring a year of hardship and unemployment caused by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit South Africans hard.

“I learned that the only way to survive is through asking for help and accepting it from kind people,” Bessick says. “In return, I’ve learned to appreciate the little things in life. I try to help out in community projects to return the favour.”

Bessick, 43, had a fairly comfortable middle-class lifestyle until the pandemic shut down borders and businesses across the world last year, including in South Africa, which has experienced one of Africa’s worst outbreaks. The bookkeeper at a small financial services firm was first forced to take a pay cut; then, in July 2020, she was laid off.

The government child support grant she has received each month as a single mother of three since her savings ran out, has been a lifeline. Bessick receives the equivalent of $90 a month – $30 each for her 15-year-old daughter and two boys, aged 7 and 8.

“I didn’t have a lot of money, but I was comfortable. There was money through the month for things like going to the doctor’s. Now I’m stuck with the same contact lenses. My glasses broke. I haven’t been able to change them for a year,” she says.

 

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