People in the times of the coronavirus crisis – Eyewitness Vivian Kleynhans in South Africa

South Africa is such a beauty. There is so much to see, experience, learn, smell and taste. You find one thing, and you start dreaming of the next. Once you see her, you cannot stop travelling to and through South Africa. One always wants more. South Africa is a country of remarkable loveliness. Her people. Her colours. Her scents. South Africa is one of the most heavenly places and travel destinations one can visit. And then there is her biodiversity. Go on a road trip through the nine provinces of the country. You will travel through eight different biomes. One word: gorgeous.

The sound of silence – it exists

Ask people. Often, outstandingly beautiful, and unforgettable adventures big and small take place in nature. The human attachment to nature and the positive feelings triggered by memories of time spent in the great outdoors are immense. Nothing is more special than spending time away from it all. Nothing but fresh air, the sound of birdsong or the ocean. Have you ever heard the sound of silence in the desert? And then there is this amazing restaurant and café scene.

South Africa is a dream of a place to create impressive memories.

The coronavirus crisis – stay home

As of now, no one can travel, to nowhere. The world is in a state of emergency. Everything is on hold for now. Be it for another six months, a year or a year and a half? By now news spread that distancing measures might be necessary well into 2021. This virus and all that comes with it is a first for everyone. It all depends on when a vaccine becomes available. Worst case, it even depends on if a vaccine becomes available at all.
Understandably health experts cannot give exact details. It is an ongoing process and depends on research. Information changes successively and in accordance with the latest findings. It is best to follow news from local authorities and health departments to stay up to date. Always fact-check everything you hear and read for relevance and authenticity.

The situation changes all the time, what the world already knows is that the entire hospitality industry suffers drastic financial losses. Airlines, car rentals, cafés and restaurants, hotels, tour-guides, everyone involved suffers during this crisis.

Lockdown isn't the same for all people all over the world. There are different guidelines and regulations in pretty much every country, town, community, and/or state. Measures of physical distancing and staying at home generally and in most places are referred to as lockdown. Guidelines, restrictions, and regulations to protect the public are put in place considering (current) numbers of Coronavirus Disease 2019 cases.

For now, everyone has been told to stay home to save lives. No one can travel to or through South Africa right now. We can still do two things. One: We can always dream of South Africa. Two: We can ask the locals to tell us about their country. We can ask them to tell us about how they experience life during the coronavirus crisis and what they make of it. If we cannot visit South Africa right now, stories from South Africa have to come to us.

I found locals whose job it is to spend time in nature, and locals who run wineries or hotels. They all care for and look after South Africa. They care for their fellow citizens and the environment. They will not tire of showing South Africa’s beauty to their guests.

Vivian Kleynhans, Seven Sisters Winery, Stellenbosch, South Africa
© Photo Vivian Kleynhans

Vivian Kleynhans was born on the magnificent West Coast of South Africa, in the fishing village of Paternoster. She and her siblings, she has six sisters and one brother, experienced much hardship during her childhood years. When Vivian looked for a way to support her family, she figured it a great idea to learn all there is to know about wine. Her vision and stamina got her to where she is today, founder and CEO of a wine business. She opened her wine company in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape of the country and named it Seven Sisters (in honour of her sisters). I contacted Vivian, to find out about her life during the coronavirus crisis.

"Lockdown means you need to stay at home. No staff members are allowed to work during this time. Friends and family are not allowed to visit, nor tourists. Should you need to buy food, you need to keep your distance from others, wear a mask and sanitize regularly," Vivian tells me.

As a result of the threat the coronavirus epidemic causes and for the time being, the sale of alcohol has been banned in South Africa. This decision does make sense in so far, that no one can drunk drive and get involved in an accident or worse. Still, it leaves me wondering what a vineyard can do in a situation like this. It surely must have an effect on every business involved in wine-producing. Vivian sadly confirms that “we are not making any money now. No tourists (are visiting the farm) and no wine sales. Luckily, my harvest was done before lockdown.”

South Africa wine is so popular all over the world. Go to a restaurant in the UK, Germany or the Netherlands and you can be sure to find a South African wine on the menu. The same can be said about wine shops in Europe. Countries like New Zealand, for example, export their wine into the world in these COVID-19 times. The New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries continues to provide export wine certification. Alcohol is banned in South Africa right now, but I imagine that at least winemakers can make money from selling their wares on overseas markets. It seems this is not the case in South Africa, ”to sell alcohol is banned and so is the export of wine. I think it has to do with the chain of events, that need to happen when everybody is supposed to be under lockdown. Our harbours were closed as well." Update: As of 1st May 2020 the export of wine will be once again allowed. According to the official Twitter page of The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa "South Africa will be placed on alert level 3 from 1st June 2020. Public gatherings and other high-risk activities, especially those that involve close contact between large numbers of people, remain prohibited to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. ... All borders of the republic remain closed except for the transportation of goods and repatriation of citizens"

Worldwide, the hospitality industry depends to a certain extent on the global economy. At ITB, a travel trade show held in Berlin, Germany, South African Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona was quoted saying that tourism is vitally important to the South African economy. The tourism sector contributed 2,9% to South African gross domestic product in 2016. This makes the tourism sector a larger contributor than agriculture.

One can well imagine that businesses in South Africa would also rely on overseas travellers. Vivian backs this up for her business “Correct, it is mainly international tourist who will visit us and do wine tastings, food- and wine pairings, lunches or events.”

As Vivian said earlier, her business does not generate any income right now. You can open any paper you want, watch the news, and see and read it everywhere. Lots of businesses are experiencing problems due to the coronavirus crisis. When I ask her if there is help available for businesses in South Africa, she reports that “Many funding opportunities were announced by the president, and organisations sent out correspondence regarding it. We could register online, but up to date, no funding came our way. I guess the systems takes time to set-up and work through.”

In this crisis, Vivian and Seven Sisters partnered with the Community Development Foundation to administer funds for food parcels for the needy in her communities.

The world and her people are in a true state of emergency. Everyone experiences this crisis differently. Vivian finds fine ways how to entertain herself to bridge the time “I keep myself busy with daily tasks. Plant vegetables and herbs. Do maintenance and cleaning up. Look after the gardens.” I realize it inspires her to educate herself and to plan when she says “I listen to webinars on sales and different aspects of the business and do zoom meetings. I also write pieces on my wine journey when I feel like it. The crisis gave me time to reflect on my life and business. I am looking at how I can streamline things.”

At Seven Sisters she loves to host guests for wine tastings, lunches, and events. “Our farm is a destination of home away from home. Here we welcome guests and make them feel at home and be like family. We cook authentic food and let the guest experience our 7-course food and wine pairing or just a wine tasting and lunch. We tell them our story on a PowerPoint picture presentation. When they leave, they will know exactly about our lives and how we started our business and the challenges and joy we experienced getting into this industry.”

Vivian is so used to be around people all the time, and at a time where tourists cannot visit South Africa any longer, she feels quite sad. “I miss the interaction with people because every day when I meet new people, I hear new life stories, some I can learn from.” I can only admire her for her optimism in these hectic times “It is abnormal not to have my children visiting over a weekend or pop in for a glass of wine. But of course, with modern technology, we can have skype calls and WhatsApp video calling.”

Vivian is hopeful, “I am content at the moment because I know this will also pass,” and about the near future, she says “I want to predict that we go into a soft lockdown from 1 May and that we will gradually get faced into normal life but still be very sensitive to distancing, wearing a mask and sanitize. Schools should check children temperatures at the gate, but parents should also do this before they leave home to the school. This should be a plan for all businesses and households.”

Out of a sudden, many people have so much time on their hands. Be it because we spend less time on commutes or something as mundane as blow-drying our hair. We have a lot more time to think. Vivian is a strategic person, and I wonder what she envisages for the future of her business. For the time when a vaccine has been found, a time when we got through this crisis, or in case there is no vaccine, a time when at least we know how to live with the new situation. I get all excited when I hear she is planning to do some green things. "I cannot really change my offering, but I can maybe add to it. I am investigating hydroponics and grow organic vegetables which can be sold to guests. Also, maybe looking at offering meals to households, delivering a weekly menu."

By now we know how Vivian handles this coronavirus crisis and we gained insight into a South African life. When I ask her about her dream trip or adventure, it gets so sad, and what she says about airlines sounds all too familiar "You will not believe, my husband and I were about to leave for Italy on the 5th March, starting with Milan, then Verona, Venice, Florence, Tuscany and then on to Dusseldorf in Germany to attend the ProWein wine exhibition for three days and three more days visiting friends. This was going to be our ultimate holiday, the first one since I started my business 15 years ago. Needless to say, the Corona epidemic started, and we had to cancel everything. Up till today, we did not get any money back from cancelled flights. We are down and out."

As a farewell, Vivian Kleynhans has a message for old and new guests and friends.

“Well, you can definitely make ready for a different experience to the normal generational farm. We are a first-generation farm. We offer authentic food and wine experiences. Our family originated from a small fishing village called Paternoster and many years ago my father lost his job and we were evicted. I brought a bit of my hometown to the farm with white sandy patches outside. Blue and white painted walls and old pictures of my family.

We can accommodate groups from ten to 100 people at any given time and arrangements can be made directly to us. But we also welcome the single people wandering in, all are welcome.”

Use the articles I have wirtten so far to plan a trip to South Arrica.

Dream now - Travel later. Further Reading Western Cape

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