How This South African Dairy Is Fighting Gender-Based Violence

Orange Grove Dairy in the South African town of Dundee donates surplus dairy goods to the local women’s centre, helping it to provide meals for up to 700 people four times per week.

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Feb 22 2017, 9:00pm

The South African town of Dundee is best known as a tourist hotspot for history enthusiasts keen to visit the 19th century battlefields that surround it, such as Isandlwana and Blood River—both sites of historic Zulu bloodshed.

But this town of 35,000 people in the eastern state of KwaZulu-Natal is also home to the country's largest family-owned dairy, which participates in a pioneering scheme to use milk and other dairy products that might otherwise be wasted to address deep social challenges—including gender-based violence.

Established 90 years ago with a herd of just seven Jersey cows, today Orange Grove Dairy maintains five distribution centres across South Africa and competes nationally for market share with multinationals such as Parmalat and Nestle.

According to Jabulani Khanyile, a director at Orange Grove, while the company could sell dairy goods returned unsold by retailers in discount stores as its more famous competitors often do, it instead donates them to Dundee's local crisis centre, along with products that have not reached specifications to make them eligible for sale but remain consumable.

A worker packs bottles of milk at Orange Grove Dairy.

"We have to support families in the community, just as we support our own families, especially those most in need," Khanyile tells me in his office at the Dundee production facility.

The Dundee Crisis Centre assists women and children in high-risk situations, such as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. It has become a go-to destination for overstretched local authorities to bring victims of such crimes.

Dundee Crisis Centre manager Carol Bradley (second right) alongside some of its volunteers.

"The hospital sent my mum and I to the Crisis Centre after I had been raped by a man who lived near us," 13-year-old Sandisiwe* tells me during a conversation interpreted by the centre's manager Carol Bradley, who has run the centre since 2005 and speaks fluent Zulu.

"Living at the Crisis Centre keeps me safe and I get to carry on with my life without worrying about my rapist getting a hold of me," she says.

According to Bradley, among a catalogue of harrowing abuse she has encountered, one of the worst cases was that of an elderly woman whose grandson had been raping her for months and charging friends money to do the same.

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"Some of these stories are absolutely sickening," Bradley tells me during a rare lull at the centre. "But this isn't just a problem here in Dundee, this is a nationwide situation."

While a jarring advertising campaign from The Salvation Army Southern Africa Territory brought international media attention to the issue in 2015, national anti-human trafficking coordinator Major Margaret Stafford tells me the organisation struggles in South Africa due to deeply ingrained misogyny.

"Speaking at a conference on this matter a man stood up and told me that women needed to be hit every now and again to keep them in their place," Stafford writes in an email to me. "Unless we raise the level of understanding that a woman has equal status to that of a man in Africa we will never really see a downward trend in this matter."

Recycling is loaded onto a truck at Dundee Crisis Centre.

In the meantime, it falls to organisations like Dundee Crisis Centre to fill gaps in local service provision for victims—often in the face of extremely adverse financial conditions.

It was in an effort to generate revenue that Bradley developed the centre's innovative feeding scheme with Orange Grove Dairy, which she says now feeds up to 700 people four times per week. Under the terms of the scheme, impoverished Dundee residents are provided with donated goods from the dairy, as well any additional food items Bradley can afford to purchase. In return, the residents give the centre bottles, cans, and cardboard.

Bradley and her team then sell these recyclables in bulk to raise funds. As well as providing food for hundreds of people, the scheme has been credited with transforming the cleanliness of some of Dundee's poorest neighbourhoods. In 2012, the town won a regional cleanliness award.

Volunteers at Dundee Crisis Centre help unload a delivery from Orange Grove Dairy.

It has also transformed the lives of people such as Makepeace Mchunu, who says his family constantly struggled to eat adequately before he began coming to the centre several years ago to exchange recyclables for food.

"Me and my family were hungry before I came here to get the food, but now we eat enough, we are so happy, we are so fine," he tells me with a big smile.

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According to Orange Grove's general manager Dave Durham, whose grandparents founded the dairy, the scheme has seen such success that his company has changed its date codes to try to guarantee that as much of its unsold product can be donated as possible.

"Now our merchandisers remove the stock from their shelves at least three days before it would be our expiry date," he tells me. "It means the consumer gets a better product and we get it back in time to be able to donate it."

Bradley chatting to Makepeace Mchunu.

But while Bradley is proud of what she has achieved, she still hopes to do more, saying that a church near the local police barracks currently for sale for 400,000 rand (£25,000) would be an ideal location to expand operations.

"If we can raise the money, I'd like to buy it, set up a training centre, run the feeding scheme from there, and provide residences for even more women in need," she says.

*Name changed to protect identity