“We need to hear African women’s stories, and we really do need to ask them, ‘What will help you?’ instead of pushing what we think they need on them. And then we need to hear them, and work with them,” says Pretorius, ForAfrika’s founding director.
Today is National Women’s Day in South Africa, a day set aside to honour the courage and celebrate the achievements of the country’s women in their fight against discrimination, and to advocate for gender equality in South Africa.
These are ideals close to Pretorius’s heart, and they are at the core of ForAfrika’s work.
Since 1984, ForAfrika, the largest indigenous African non-governmental organisation, has worked towards ensuring that African women and men have the means to transform their own lives, working with communities to fulfil the plans they already have and to enhance their inherent skills.
The organisation’s ultimate aim is for Africa’s people to thrive, and its assistance ranges from food donations to communities facing starvation to infrastructure development, such as road and dyke construction, and agro-economic education and training.
Its origin story is the stuff of legend. In 1984, Pretorius’s husband, tobacco and sugar farmer Peter Pretorius, was stranded for 10 days in Pambarra, a village near Vilankulo on the Mozambican coast. He had gone there on a mission to help people displaced during the country’s 1977 to 1992 civil war.
Meanwhile, Ann was at home in South Africa with the couple’s six children in an age when cellphones were not yet available. She heard nothing of Peter until he reappeared, thin, sick and traumatised. Although Pambarra was the site of a food distribution centre, there was little or no food to distribute and the water was not potable.
“He slept in the bushes, listening to the whimpering of children too weak to cry out loud. There were some children wandering around the dead bodies of their parents … people who had given their all to make sure their children had a chance at surviving,” says Ann.
It was an experience that changed them both. They sold their farms and put their own resources into helping people in need. What started as a trip in their own vehicle to take food and supplies to Mozambicans displaced by war has evolved into a multi-country operation that in 2021 reached 2.9-million people on the continent.
“For me the greatest gift, what I live and breathe for every day, is the ability to change the lives of others in some way. I’m in my 70s now and I’m so excited to meet ForAfrika staff members who were children who received help from us back in the day,” she says.
It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Last year, ForAfrika assisted more than 1.2-million people in South Sudan – its largest area of operations – and more than 903 000 in Angola, 50 000 in Uganda, 400 000 in Mozambique, 166 300 in South Africa and 500 in Rwanda. It plans to expand into other African countries soon.
“They just keep doing what it takes to keep going, with resilience and determination.”
She tells the story of two women in South Africa who she met when she visited their crèche, housed in a small garage.
“There was barely enough space for all the children to lie down for nap time. When they did, the two ladies came to talk to me outside and I said, ‘You must be exhausted when you get home at night.’ They said, ‘Oh, no, we go to classes.’
“They were going to classes to earn their matric. Two women in their 50s. There’s a women’s story for you. My goodness, what a challenge!”