Almost half a year has elapsed since South Africa went into lockdown. The economic consequences have been profound, particularly for the millions of hospitality and tourism workers. Executive Chef Devandra Narismulu from Newlands, Durban, who has worked for some of our country’s finest restaurants and hotels, is one of them. Despite the easing of the lockdown restrictions, his struggle remains a challenge.

When Covid-19 knocked on South Africa’s door in March this year, Narismulu knew the storm was going to be severe, but not how severe. That, he found out a month or so after the country had gone into one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, shutting down most of the economy.

“Under the lockdown, I suddenly found myself sitting at home, for the first time, with a 20% salary reduction. The worst part of this, was not knowing what the future was going to look like,” says the proud father of a 4-month-old baby boy, noting his wife has also lost her job.

Things went from bad to worse when he got retrenched in July, leaving him without an income and work for the first time since 2006, the year he started working as a chef. “Over the past 14 years, I have pushed myself, working hard every day to progress from a commis chef in some of Durban’s finest hotels, which revolved around assisting the different station chefs or chefs de parties, to becoming an Executive Chef at South Africa’s top golf resort,” says Narismulu with pride in his voice, explaining that his passion for food dates back to his childhood.

“My mother was instrumental in this as she used to buy me cookbooks, which fed my already established passion for food and baking. I remember using them to make after-school treats, from rice crispy treats to crunchies, for myself and my older brother.” All of this helped pave the way for his later career, which has come to a screeching halt. Besides not being able to do what loves most, he lives with the uncertainty of what tomorrow holds, and when he will be able to provide for his family again.”

“I’m one of 1.8 million South Africans in the supply chain and many of us have been left without an income and limited and uncertain prospects,” Narismulu says. “We don’t know when things will pick up again. This depends on how the borders open, which depends on the Covid-19 state in the rest of the world, including important tourism countries in Europe.”

Despite the uncertainties, he remains optimistic. “South Africa will bounce back from this, stronger than before. I am convinced of that!” he says, noting that the public can help speed up this process.

“Go out and have a meal, treat yourself to a weekend getaway, or plan a longer post-lockdown staycation. Spending your money locally will help my colleagues keep their jobs, businesses rebuild themselves, and employers rehire people like me whom they had to let go,” Narismulu urges. “The industry has put in place every possible safety precaution to protect you, our patrons, and us, staff members. Together with your support, and your protective measures, too, we can safely rebuild what we lost in the fire.”

To help the many people like Devandra whom have lost their livelihoods or been impacted by the lockdown, some of South Africa’s leading food suppliers such as Unilever Food Solutions, RCL FOODS, McCain Food Service, Tiger Brands Out of Home Solutions and Bidfood have joined forces in the #onemealmanythanks campaign. They are also working with the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA) and other associations, #onemealmanythanks is a clarion call to ordinary South Africans to support the local hospitality and tourism industry.

Simply by purchasing a single meal, consumers will be helping support the over 1.8 million South Africans along the food supply chain. From the restaurant owner, the chef, waiters, delivery drivers, farm workers, pest-controllers, and cleaning staff to name just a few, many of these being the family breadwinners behind a meal or order that will be saved, restoring the industry and jobs in the process.