CFO Zaf Mahomed unpacks how Oceana is addressing the imbalances of society


The fishing company has stepped in to give back to charity, communities and even the hungry.

In early January 2023, the efforts of the Gift of the Givers to help people in distress were set back by a robbery at their premises in Athlone, Cape Town. As a partner to the charity, the leadership team at Oceana Group knew they had to step in to help Gift of the Givers continue their shared mission to positively impact lives.

Oceana replaced five of the stolen laptops in support of the charity’s work and those that benefit from their continued goodwill.

“Oceana’s brand promise is to positively impact lives, and food security is integral to what we do as a business and our social investment partnerships, through which we provide some 4.45 million meals annually,” explains new CFO Zaf Mahomed.

“We are humbled by this generous donation of five laptops. It will add immense value to the project team moving forward,” says Gift of the Givers director of strategic partnerships Badr Kazi. “Our long relationship with Oceana has paid off since they were one of the first corporate organisations to reach out.”

Partnering for the greater good
The partnership between Oceana and Gift of the Givers started in 2018. Through this collaboration, Oceana has supported disaster mitigation and relief, including recent disasters such as the social unrest and subsequent flooding in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as Covid-19 relief projects.

“Ocean has also partnered with Gift of the Givers on a critical food security project known as the Carp Project. The project takes a holistic approach to contribute towards the sustainability of communities by clearing a Garden Route Lake of an alien fish species, which is still fit for human consumption, and providing the fish to feed nearby disadvantaged communities,” Zaf says.

The group sponsored a trailer-mounted freezer to ensure that the team could transport the fish further to reach more people while maintaining food safety standards. “The impact is significant,” Zaf explains. “Each catch feeds an average of 800 people daily.”

“The trailer-mounted freezer allows us to transport more fish, further, more often substantially expanding the project’s extent, reach and benefits,” says Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman. “Oceana was the obvious partner: they’re committed to food security, are active in the region and know all about the logistics of getting fish to consumers.”

To date, the project has provided more than 110,000 meals.

Growing skilled communities
In a 2021 leadership statement, Oceana’s management was unequivocal about its intent: “Our actions are based on the premise that we live in an imbalanced society and that is our responsibility, as a leader in our sector, to contribute to addressing these imbalances in whichever way we can.”

According to Zaf, the Oceana Maritime Academy in Hout Bay epitomises how this approach is practically implemented. Built at a cost of R40 million, it is the first facility of its kind in South Africa that focuses specifically on training for the fishing industry.

Together with the NSRI, Dyna Training and the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Environment, the Oceana Maritime Academy delivers training and mentorship programmes both at the academy and around the country to enable fishing co-operatives to run as successful SMMEs.

The 18 accredited skills and training programmes it offers include skills at sea, safety, leadership and business development. “As the academy grows, the plan is to expand the offering, providing more specialist training courses and foreign international alliances to provide global best-practice exchange opportunities,” Zaf says.

To date, nearly 800 small-scale fishers who belong to co-operatives in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have participated, and 1,092 Hout Bay community members have attended courses at the academy.

Feeding the future
In addition to helping upskill the workforce in the communities they operate in, Oceana is also involved in a pilot school nutrition project at HP Williams Primary School in St Helena Bay.

“This pioneering project could make school nutrition more impactful in communities where, for some children, these meals are the main source of nutrition,” Zaf says.

Zaf explains that the problem with existing programmes is that meals are only provided to children who need them. “Unfortunately, this can result in these children being stigmatised, so they opt to go hungry rather than be embarrassed.”

Because of this, Oceana has provided a fully equipped kitchen to serve food to all 502 children attending the school, and built an adjacent dining area to help ensure that the food can be served and consumed in a hygienic environment. All the children have also been given utensils, cups and plates.

“We’ve also helped train unemployed community volunteers as cooks,” Zaf adds. “The food preparation and hygiene training they receive is accredited, giving them marketable skills.”

Feedback from the trial has indicated that this “nutrition with dignity” approach is working, he explains. “Based on the success of this project, we plan to extend it to other schools and to eliminate any real or perceived stigma associated with accepting a school lunch.”

Oceana was recently recognised for its efforts when its iconic Lucky Star brand topped Ask Africa’s annual Kasi Star Brands benchmarking survey as the top township brand for 2022/23. “That’s because providing healthy, affordable food remains our biggest impact.”

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