Convoy of hope feeds thousands.
Operation Mercy will go down as one of the most remarkable human chains of support to take place in post-democratic South Africa.
In the days and weeks following the bleak moment in our history when mayhem and destruction were visited on Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, ordinary people from all walks of life – including many within the community – stepped up to help dozens of charitable initiatives big and small.
The one initiative that beggars belief is Operation Mercy – Compassion in Action. It took a week of off-the-charts planning to harness the collective empathy and power of hundreds of everyday folk determined to make a difference during a tumultuous time of unprecedented crisis.
“It was a mammoth adventure,” said Advocate Jean Berdou, one of the head co-ordinators, explaining how Operation Mercy unfolded.
“It’s difficult to give a blow-by-blow account because so many things were taking place at the same time. But it was all in the detail, that’s how we managed to pull this off,” he said.
The multiple connections locally and abroad of Kim Kur, the founder and lead volunteer of Community Circle SA, helped pull off this gigantic task, he said.
“People networked and did whatever they could in their own way,” Kur told the SA Jewish Report.
It started with multiple calls for support and donations as soon as images of the frightening looting and destruction spread. Following radio and newspaper appeals, voluntary offers of assistance and donations started to pour in from various church congregations and members of the public.
“It was an umbrella initiative that was spontaneously put together,” said Berdou, “and things just snowballed. One thing about this place, when a crisis presents itself especially involving South Africans, people just roll up their sleeves.
“People from all walks of life put their differences aside after they felt helpless and hopeless. This initiative gave them a way of doing something,” said Kur.
Kur joined the picture somewhere along the line after her name was mentioned as someone good at planning and logistics.
Using her network, she contacted shadow ministers, premiers, and deputy ministers for a range of things including permission to use a stadium, the services of the South African Police Service (SAPS), security personnel, and transport.
“I was just pushing for everything we could get in such a short space of time,” said Kur, who helped secure funding for things like the money for tolls to bring the trucks through, which amounted to several thousand rand.
The multi-million rand interprovincial operation resulted in the safe delivery (during the most volatile days following the looting) of non-perishable goods from Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal.
“For days, goods such as maize meal, bread, canned food, toilet paper, nappies, and water were collected and collated at various collection sites in Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Bloemfontein,” said Berdou.
“Joint Aid Management collated the goods. Parcels were individually wrapped in plastic and boxed to be delivered as a unit to victims specifically identified as having been impacted.
“A truck hauling company in Botswana supplied trucks with amazing drivers and fuel for the operation. The SAPS and Fidelity Security Services provided aerial and road support for the convoy,” he said.
“In the very cold, early hours of last Friday, 23 July, our convoy of seven 20-ton link trucks, 16 SAPS, a Fidelity fleet of six, air support by Fidelity’s helicopters, an ER24 ambulance, fire ops and our co-ordination vehicle left the grounds of the Christian Revival Church in Fourways, Johannesburg, at about 03:00,” said Kur.
It was a convoy of hope that managed to feed more than 11 000 people in KwaZulu-Natal severely impacted by the looting and destruction.
“Jean and I were accompanied by police reservist and medic Ariel Marcus, who came on board at the last minute to make sure things ran smoothly. He communicated with police and security on the ground making sure the convoy made it safely to Durban. Helicopters made sure our passage ahead was safe,” she said.
Travelling at a speed not exceeding 80km/h, the convoy didn’t go without hiccups.
“One of our trucks started smoking after experiencing brake issues on the Van Reenen’s Pass and had to stop. Fortunately, we had fire ops on hand to help while the driver waited for a technician,” said Kur.
After 11 gruelling hours, the convoy, which had travelled through the night from Gauteng to Bloemfontein, ended at Kings Park Stadium.
“On arrival in Durban, we were met by additional Metro police cars and ER24 vehicles and ambulances who escorted us non-stop through the city’s intersections to our final destination, Kings Park Stadium, where we arrived to find hundreds of cheering volunteers to welcome us. The feeling of gratitude was palpable, and each member of the convoy felt proud of what we had achieved,” said Kur.
“You can’t imagine the reaction on the faces of some of the recipients, people who have lost everything, from small spaza shops to their entire livelihood. It was priceless,” she said.
“Through all the darkness, this incredible spirit of ubuntu has shone through,” said Berdou.
“We are grateful to all the donors and organisations such as Future City Fourways NPC, Community Circle SA, Rhema Ministries South Africa and their Hand of Compassion teams, and Christian Revival Churches South Africa,” he said.
“Donations came in from Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Kimberley, and Pretoria, Joint Aid Management (JAM), Hot 102.1 FM, Hot Cares NPC, Chai FM, Dovetail Internet Solutions, Tintswalo Property Group, Riversands Incubation Hub, Telesure Holdings, Pick n Pay, Dis-Chem, Fidelity Group, and many more. Together we will recover,” he said.