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Rossouw Cillie Laastedrif2d

The DNA of caring

“Uithou, aanhou en bekhou!” – Irene Cillié.

On 16 May this year the family and extended farm family of Laastedrif and surrounds said goodbye to Irene Cillié, the mother of many. On that same day her son, Rossouw, custodian of the farm and business, also fed 800 hungry townshippers with fruit and veg from his farm. What a way to celebrate Mom’s 93 years of unforgettable life and love, Gerrit Rautenbach discovered.        

“My mother’s maiden name was Rossouw,” Irene’s laatlam son explained the origin of his name. With pride. “And she was an exceptional person.”

She grew up in the Agter-Paarl where she excelled in many things in Girl’s High, including becoming a Western Province School’s athlete. “I won’t necessarily call her a tomboy, but she was one of the avid rugby players playing games in the cattle kraal. She was fast and outran a certain Theuns Briers many times to score against him. A few years later, the same Theuns became a winger for the Springboks,” Rossouw chuckled.

At more or less the same time Irene started working as a laboratory assistant at the KWV where she helped making brandy. “She not only made it, but she enjoyed it too! When she went to the retirement home, she still took a sip or two to celebrate life. She gave me a very special KWV bottle that she had kept all those years since when she worked there. It must have been at least 60 years old. So after her funeral, at her wake, we opened that bottle. Symbolically letting go of her spirit; saying goodbye to one of the most special people ever…”

Ouma Irene2
Irene Cillie: “Uithou, aanhou, bekhou.”

“The thing with my mother is that she was a carer. About the farm, environment, animals. But mostly about people. She was one of the most devoted Christians I’ve ever seen. Especially in the way she gave of herself, of helping the hungry, the destitute, people in need. She never stood up to preach, but she rather lived her Christianity through example. I believe her caring was a result of how she grew up. Life was good, but life was hard. And one of the most important things was, nothing should ever go to waste. Somebody out there needs it.

“You know, she had her own incredible vegetable garden here on Laastedrif, growing spectacular veggies. And then, once a week, she would take the whole yield into town, handing it out to people in need. I’m sure, along the way, she added royally some of the abundant apples hanging on the trees next to our farm road as well!”

Rossouw today is a happy, balanced caring person. Because he grew up in a happy, balanced, caring home. That’s why, in the time of Covid-19, he became even more caring. About his personnel and about people far and wide in need. During the season he had 1 200 people employed of which 300 were seasonal. While Witzenberg district is a hotspot, Laastedrif is zero-rated. But Rossouw doesn’t brag about it, he is just grateful. Everybody is aware, taking the protocols very seriously. The results are there. “In a certain way, the novel coronavirus is a good thing, because it teaches people discipline again,” he remarked.

Following in the caring footsteps of his mom, it is evident that her mantra of never letting anything go to waste also runs in Rossouw’s DNA. Laastedrif produces fruit and vegetables on a big scale. The requirements of his buyers are stringent. Because his customers demand it. Fruit needs to be perfect in shape, colour, and size. So too the carrots, butternuts and other veggies. Quality is king. The sorting systems in the sheds make sure of that. But rather than letting the discoloured apples, snapped carrots, and skew butternuts go to waste, his team treats it exactly like the champion produce, preparing it, cutting and dicing it, and packaging it.

All of this actually started when the season ended for his 300 seasonal workers. It coincided with the lockdown. So there they were, forced to stay at home, not able to look for work, going hungry through no fault of theirs. So he fed them. He established soup kitchens in Worcester, Touwsrivier, Ceres, Elandsbaai, and Redelinghuys. Apart from workers, his cut ’n dice packs are now feeding a lot of needy school kids as well. Ceres Fruit Growers, Cape Agri, Agri SA, APL, Revolute Systems, and Yara Fertilisers are all are supporting the cause by now. Stef Stefaan and Tokkelos from the Sandveld are adding potatoes.

“To ensure that all the veggies don’t always taste the same, we’re beginning to add some Oxo cubes, bully beef, soya mince, and baked beans as variety. And an apple a day for a good breakfast.

“When you see the dire situation in many places…it becomes scary. No money and no food is frightening, but that’s not all. There are people with some money, but they are too scared of this situation. They feel they are a high risk against this virus. I’m worried that more people might die of hunger than from Covid-19.”

During the season Laastedrif has fed many a hungry stomach. Sometimes as much as 15 tons of cut ’n dice and core fruit and vegetables per week. But as the season runs out, so will the tonnage. It might be a race against Corona. Against time.

“If I can, and where I can, I will help. That’s what I inherited from my mother. If you need a way, you will find a way, she always said.”


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