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Add your voice to the conversation

Anneke Bezuidenhout, Manager – Care of the Aged, VVA (Vrystaat Versorging in Aksie/Free State Care in Action)

Anneke Bezuidenhout, 69 years of age, joined the VVA in the Free State, based in Bloemfontein, in 1985, to supervise social workers. It was in 1999 that the management board appointed Anneke as the person to head up and coordinate services to older people.

They had no uniform policies and her role was to bring them all together, to build relationships. There was a lot of negativity, people were comfortable working in their silos, and she had to work at changing perceptions and people seeing the value of being an integral part of a large organisation. A social worker by profession, she started off her professional career in Pretoria where she held the position of Director of the SAVF, before she moved to the Free State, to this long established organisation. The VVA was established in 1908, by a group of volunteers who saw the need for shelter, food and clothes for poverty stricken people at the time of the Anglo Boer War. A Christian-based organisation, it has always focused on being a child and family organisation alleviating poverty.

Their first home for older people was established in 1923 in Brandfort, and served 13 people. They now serve 200 older people in homes throughout the Free State and 3000 older people in their Service Centres. They have 800 volunteers involved in their various programmes. There are 43 branches of the VVA throughout the Free State, 14 care homes for older people, 5 service centres, and 17 housing schemes (flats/cottages). In terms of child care, they have a foster village in Brandfort with a number of cluster homes serving needy children.

The driver of their organisation and the reason for their long-term sustainability and success, is Anneke suggests, their volunteers’ involvement. They always have people on the ground who are committed, loyal and absolutely dedicated. She believes there is a different kind of feeling, and tradition, in a Women’s organisation. There is such deep commitment, and also a firm resolve – no matter the challenge, they’ll find a way around it over it. Some volunteers have served the organisation for over 40 years!

Also contributing to its success is the manner in which they handle their staff. The majority of their staff have been with the organisation for years (Anneke’s 30 years’ service is reflective of this).

The biggest challenge for the VVA is finance. There is much uncertainty about government subsidies, and the sustainability of long-term care. To deliberate over this subject, a symposium is being organised in the Free State early in October. New models, new ways of operating, need to be explored. The Department of Social Development does not place older persons as a priority – their priority is the implementation of the new Child Care Act.

The VVA has been bold and taken the decision that at Mooihawe, and they have informed the Department that they will no longer be applying for subsidies. They closed 30 vacant beds and are engaged in a project with the Business School at the University of the Free State, to look at alternate ways of generating income. They are offering different packages of care, concentrating on improving the functionality of residents, with a pay as you go system in terms of levels of care required. The VVA is realising that the baby boomer generation of older people, is wanting a new paradigm of care – they want increased privacy, their expectations are higher.
Anneke is very excited about doing things differently and has made contact through the South African Care Forum with Uniting Care in Australia. They are sharing ideas and there is the possibility of developing a working partnership going forward.

It was Anneke’s dream back in 1999 when she started her new position, to take services to older people to another level, to a bigger place. She believes she has facilitated that process through the partnership the VVA developed with GERATEC and the changes implemented across their organisation over a period of a year and are still ongoing. Anneke serves on the Board of Directors of the Eden Alternative SA, and the VVA has embarked on the Eden journey transforming their homes. All their services meet quarterly, they access training continually and their boards around the Free State have opened their hearts and minds to a new way of doing things.

This process has motivated all their staff and board members. At Huis Moria in Theunessen, there were such negative feelings about the home. At a recent open day, visitors couldn’t believe it was the same place. There is a different vibe now, residents are all involved in all the daily activities of their home, and the VVA board members and CEO visit regularly now.

Anneke has raised the issue of succession planning with the VVA board, but it’s their biggest challenge. There is no plan. It is discussed but not proactively dealt with.

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Anneke does not see herself as a leader – she sees herself as a facilitator, a member of the team. When challenged, she considers she might be a servant leader. She strives to get the best out of their people – “they are our resource” – she likes to use people’s strengths and opportunities.
Although leadership is important to the board, they don’t all understand the idea or the role of leadership in the organisation. In terms of the sector as a whole, she believes it’s going to take strong leadership to move forward, because there is a minefield out there.

Anneke believes the conversations that should be happening in the sector should include conversations with baby boomers – the next generation of clientele – what do they want? what do they expect? what are their expectations?

Considering moving from being a provider to being a facilitator, Anneke believes it’s the way the VVA should be going, but to convince the board would be difficult.

Anneke believes the shadows in the sector are the old ways of doing things. She believes minds have to shift to new ways of caring, the sector needs to move with the times. She believes the aged care sector in SA is an old, conservative sector, and the community still has traditional ideas of care and expecting residents to be waited upon and not encouraged to be independent. There is great resistance to looking at care through new eyes.
Anneke is inspired by the commitment and passion of her staff, and by people who you can see are passionate and have a heart.

Married to Theo, they have no children of their own but are the godparents of their brother’s and sister’s children. They are very fond of them and love to have them spending holidays with them. Family is important to them and Anneke and Theo make use of every opportunity to spend time together. In the week they are both often away from home for work, but they spend quality time together when they are home, such as doing a braai or going out for a late breakfast in Clarens and enjoy the time together. Anneke’s interests include reading, music, gardening and needlework. She is passionate about her work, and making a difference. She is always open to new learning. She is passionate about nature, and the beauty of each of the different seasons. Spending time in her garden and outdoors is therapeutic for her, and it enriches her soul.

Your passion, commitment and heart shine through Anneke. The South African Care Forum salutes you for your servant leadership and boldness in a very conservative corner of South Africa