The Eastern Cape Covid-19 Community Action Network (CAN)

Who are we? 

We are a collective of educator activists and community activists working in well established food and water learning networks. We have joined together to form an Eastern Cape Community Action Network (ECCAN), affiliated to the ‘Cape Town Together’ initiative and other C-19 civil society response groups. Our interest is to strengthen responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the rural Eastern Cape.  We have over 100 CAN members throughout the rural Eastern Cape, who are small scale farmers, community activists and educators. Our network is mainly clustered around Makhanda, King Williams Town, Middledrift, Willowvale, the Kat River Valley,  the Tsitsa catchment, Kokstad, Mt Frere, Port St Johns, Lusikisiki, Centane and much of the Wild Coast.  We also have links to similar networks throughout South Africa and the SADC region. We are learning from the ‘Cape Town Together’ initiative, which has shown significant leadership in mobilizing neighbourhood solidarity networks to facilitate safe and caring local responses to COVID-19.  We are also linking up with other civil society organisations who are supporting local level responses to the COVID-19 situation.  

What do we do and why do we do this? 

We have a number of working groups focusing on co-ordination and communication, materials and quality information, translation, activism, practical responses and cross CAN networking.  Our concern is that information and understanding about the COVID-19 pandemic is very thin on the ground in a lot of communities, meaning that many people do not know how to protect themselves from the virus, how to ensure they do not spread it to others, what the reasons are for government measures such as the lockdown, or how to safely access essential services such as water, food and healthcare during this time. In the absence of accessible reliable information, dangerous misinformation spreads very fast. There is a huge amount of COVID-19 awareness material already available, and laudable efforts by government and civil society to reach all South Africans. The gap we have identified is for high quality, contextually sensitive, relatable and reliable materials for rural Eastern Cape citizens, such as the food growers, water custodians and citizen scientists from our networks.  We have also identified a gap for practical support to sustain livelihoods.  We aim to develop a learning platform for the development and sharing of such materials, information and ideas for action and practical responses to COVID-19 risks as well as impacts. The way we are doing this is through working closely, using social media platforms such as WhatsApp, with Community Action Network (CAN) champions, who are active leaders within existing networks, able to reach a wide range of people in different areas, networks and communities of practice.   

Specific activities we have identified to date:

  • Share existing COVID19 learning materials, via the CAN champions, with some ‘mediating suggestions’ if needed
  • Develop some new learning materials to address context specific gaps that we may identify (for example, advice for small scale farmers on how to safely distribute and sell food while observing all official health guidelines)
  • Develop a communications strategy that takes into account the absence of internet connectivity in most Eastern Cape communities
  • Develop a data sharing plan, in consultation with CAN champions, to try and ensure that clusters of people are able to access media, without transgressing physical distancing guidelines (this might include approaching some of the well resourced CANs, or other funding streams, to seek donation of data bundles for network members)
  • Develop local news stories with MOJO citizen journalists, about life during the pandemic, share these stories via the learning platform, and pitch these stories to national media houses such as Media24. 
  • CAN champions to feed local concerns and challenges to the ECCAN coordinating team, to be taken up with the relevant authorities (for example there are reports that local clinics in some villages are turning people away because of the restrictions on local gatherings – advice is needed from DoH on the protocols for ensuring that non corona-virus healthcare is still accessible)
  • Explore practical responses that can support health care and sustainable livelihoods and respond to problems of food insecurity wherever possible. 

We are guided by the principle of ‘Each One Teach One’ / ‘Each One Reach One’, whereby care and knowledge is passed from one person to the next, while maintaining safe physical distancing, in a wide reaching network of solidarity and learning.