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From dope to hope … with the helping hands of PROCARE

Farming is a labour intensive operation and there where you have lots of people together, there is always social pressure. Not coping with the pressure leads to social deterioration. And handling social deterioration becomes a social responsibility. To cope, you need all the help you can get. The Fruit Workers’ Development Trust (FWDT), in conjunction with PROCARE, offer that help. By Gerrit Rautenbach.

“There is an imbalance that begins with the fact that all these people come from all walks of life and have different backgrounds. You have to put your own background aside and first get to understand where they are coming from,” says Sunette le Roux, executive manager of operations at PROCARE, one of the leading emotional wellness companies in South Africa. “In order to achieve any behavioural change, you need to give them insight and understanding of the problem. And that you do with the correct information.”

One of the major issues they dealt with first was gender based violence. The FWDT initiated workshops in 2021 on more than 40 deciduous fruit farms in the Western Cape, with more than  1 000 participants taking part. The main aim was to make workers aware that it is not a shame to ask for help. There were huge eye-openers for the attendees and the workshop ignited life-changing actions.

In order to get the buy-in from the farmers, PROCARE developed a presentation and workshop that is presented on the farms and it lasts only four hours. But those hours packed a punch, getting the workers to speak up and address the problem. Only four hours that had a huge life-changing effect on many people, getting them, the farm and the farmer into a much more positive space.

“The shocking thing we learnt was how rife gender based violence is. How emotionally difficult it is to report it and to get the legal system to come to the party. But by just speaking up about it, already made a huge positive change in these people’s lives,” Sunette explains.

The pattern with social deterioration operates on a domino effect. Gender based violence, or any type of violence in fact, is fuelled predominantly by substance abuse. So PROCARE developed another four hour presentation and workshop addressing substance abuse. By doing this, they created consistency. After round one (GBV), the same social worker goes back to the same farm. This creates a relationship. The dream is to go back and back, each time addressing another social issue, like finances, nutrition, depression or lack of self-esteem. The list is endless, but every round will leave the workers in a better place.

Sunette believes that marijuana will become a massive problem, because “everybody believes it is legal” which it isn’t. It has been decriminalised, meaning you can smoke it in your own home, let’s say on Saturday or Sunday. Come Monday, you will test positive at work.  Tik (crystal meth) is also a big problem, especially amongst the younger crowd, but the big culprit has always been, and still is, alcohol abuse. Probably because it is legal.

 Some decades ago, there was a seriously destructive system on farms labelled the “dopstelsel” or tot system. This  was where labourers were part-paid for their work in alcohol rations. This caused a lot of (previously) non-drinking youngsters to take a dop, because they didn’t want to loose out on any form of payment. Fortunately, the tot system was outlawed in 1960, but the ban was not enforced until the 1990s when South Africa’s new democratic government under Nelson Mandela saw the demise of the practice. In 2003 a new Liquor Act which outlaws the “dop” system was approved by the South African Parliament.

However, the abuse of alcohol is still rife. The most important message from PROCARE and the FWDT is that they are not advocating teetotalism. On the contrary, the workshop teaches the understanding of responsible and socially acceptable drinking while it also gives insight into the cause and effect of irresponsible drinking. It’s a domino effect, affecting your health, relationships, ability to work, finances and many more. Substance abuse has tentacles. It’s like a huge octopus out to get you. Like depression, substance abuse is an illness and therefore the PROCARE campaign also focuses strongly on prevention.

To many of the workers, substance abuse in the home has been part of their lives since birth. That’s how it was and that’s how it still is. A way of life. Another big problem is binge drinking. Monday to Friday sobriety, but over the weekend it’s all-out drinking. To a binge drinker, that’s a way of life. Many of them think that, in order to have a good time, there must be alcohol or other substances involved. You can’t feel good without it.

Substance abuse mostly happens because many people run away from a myriad of other problems. They are looking for a quick fix. But alcohol is a depressant in disguise. It lifts you up and drops you lower than you’ve been before. Now you need more. And more often. An endless spiral. The terrible thing about abuse is that good people express bad conduct, regretting it afterwards when the damage has been done.

“The thing is, I believe abusers don’t really want to drink abusively,” Sunette says. “Wherever we go, the people in the workshops admit they drink too much. They want to know how to go about it to drink less. One of the most effective remedies is to teach them the correct and healthy amount of units to consume over a certain time. The secret of the success of this project is that every individual identifies his or her problem and find the answers to rectifying it. We don’t tell them they have a problem and what the solution is. They do it. And the good news is it works. There is a chance in  behaviour afterwards.” A change that makes them feel good.

Another key element of the workshop is that there is absolutely no judgment. By admitting in the group that you have a problem, you are setting yourself up to get your problem sorted out. It’s the beginning of the healing.

PROCARE also works very closely with the farmers, helping them to create an effective substance abuse policy, assuring that it has been communicated to the workforce and that they know what the consequences will be when they test positive. They will also identify individuals to the farmer that need more help, and they also identify resources in the community that can help them.

Although substance abuse is a universal problem, the workshop is not a once-size-fits-all project. Every individual has very specific problems and reasons for being where he or she is. To give them the personal attention, the social worker who presented the workshop remains on site for an hour after the presentation where everyone has the opportunity to get the right answers and information to help solve their problems.

When all is said and done, South Africa has a gender based violence and substance abuse problem. PROCARE has reached over 1 200 farm workers so far who are now part of the solution. In short, there is hope to cope with dope.

For more information or to contact them, visit


Quotes from workers who attended the workshops – to be used dispersed through the story.

“Vandag was dit vir my ’n groot ervaring gewees. Ek het ’n groot las van my skouers afgeleer.”
From a worker at Crooks Brothers

“Hoe dwelms en alkohol ‘n mens se lewe affekteer. Hoe jy as persoon jou eie waarde kies nie wat mense van jou sê nie, maar hoe jy kies om ‘n beter lewe vir jouself, kinders, en gesin te hê.” Employer at Desperado

“Ek het geleer wat wyn veroorsaak in ’n mens se lewe en hoe om my werk op te pas.” Crooks Brothers

Drank kan die oorsaak wees dat mens baie dinge in die lewe verloor. Ons het geleer dat mens drank se baas is en nie dat drank jou baas is nie.”Desperado

“How to control a drinking problem and where to go to seek help, or what to do to improve.” Crooks Brothers

“Ek het geleer oor wat tik doen aan jou, dit verwoes jou lewe. Ek het ook oor wyn geleer, jy kom nie by jou werk uit nie.” Boplaas

If we use drugs we endanger our lives and kill our future. I wish I can help those

who use drugs to stop using drugs.” Graaff Fruit Romansrivier

“Om bietjie meer selfbeheersing te bevorder. Alkohol kan ’n mens verander as jy nie stop nie.” Dunmanway

 “Ek het geleer dat ons mekaar baie nodig het om te voorkom dat iets slegs met ons gebeur a.g.v. drugs. Dit is baie nodig dat ons hierdie dinge weet en verstaan.” Graaff Fruit Romansrivier

“Het geleer hoeveel units alkohol ’n vrou moet gebruik en hoe spaarsamig jy moet werk met jou geld. Alkohol en drugs is gevaarlik vir jou liggaam so jy moet altyd die beste besluit maak.” Boplaas

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