High on a hill overlooking Nieu Bethesda, on the wings of the small Eastern Cape village, lives an angel. Her name is Evelyn Olifant.
Antie Evelyn, as she is known, has had her own fair share of hardship and tragedy. In the early 1970s she spent six months in gaol for protesting against the curfew imposed on people of colour by the apartheid regime. In 1984 two of her three children died. As a result, and with a sense of hopelessness, she turned to drink. “Those were dark days,” she says. “Then this evangelist from Cape Town came and I gave my heart to the Lord.”
At the age of 63 she is deeply religious.
In 1994 she started a soup kitchen,called God Shall Provide, as a way to serve her God. Every day she provides food for 100 to 120 people aged between two and fifty nine.
When asked what she feeds the people with she gives a coquettish smile. “It depends what we have. But we always give them bread,” she adds.
You see Antie Evelyn runs the kitchen without financial aid. As she says: “When you get money you forget about the Lord”. So everything that she gives is provided by herself or others (or the Lord, as she will tell you).
A local game farmer gives her meat from his hunts. Others send fruit and vegetables. Some send seeds for her to plant in her small plot. Another supplies gas for the kitchen and so on.
In addition she runs a township restaurant for tourists where you can eat a meal on her verandah and hear her story. There are no prices on the menu. In fact there is no menu. It is up to you to leave a donation or go prepared with appropriate gifts.
When asked what she needs she mentions plastic plates, a really big cooking pot, second hand clothes, food, toys, games, cards, dominoes, English and Afrikaans books, seeds for planting carrots, beetroots, beans and cabbage.
Clothes, food, toys, games, cards, dominoes, English and Afrikaans books? Antie Evelyn also provides a safe haven for children during their school holidays. Furthermore she runs a Sunday School.
Every school day children go and collect a lunch packet from her. In the afternoon she gives them another meal. For impoverished adults lunch is also provided. Before each meal she always reads from the Bible and prays. “Some people don’t know anything about God,” she says.
Marianne Horn, who runs the Sneeuwitjie Early Childhood Development Centre, knows Evelyn well. “I’ve never met anyone like her before,” she says. “She’s a mother to the village. There are many people here whose only meal of the day is provided by Antie Evelyn. It’s major social relief.”
Whether you’re religious or not Evelyn Olifant is a living manifestation of Grace.