Solly Krok steps out to combat the ‘worst crisis in 1 000 years’

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Solly Krok was named after his grandfather who died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/1919. Now, just over a century later, Krok is living through a different global pandemic, and he decided that at the age of 91, he had to help those suffering most under South Africa’s lockdown.
by TALI FEINBERG | Jun 11, 2020

Inspired by Sir Tom Moore, the British army veteran who raised £39 million (R829.9 million) for charity in the United Kingdom, Krok committed to walking 91km by his 91st birthday, and to raising R108 million to help feed vulnerable people in South Africa. Thus far, more than R2 million has been raised.

The energetic great-grandfather is best known for his multiple business successes as well as being the man behind the creation of the iconic Apartheid Museum and his commitment to philanthropy over the years.

He had walked 50km by his 91st birthday on 28 May, and brought the total number to 91km by 4 June. “I started on 1 May, so I walked for a total of 34 days,” he says. “For the first 23 days, I managed only 2km a day. After that, I increased it to 3km, 4km, 5km, or 6km a day.”

He called his venture “Keep the wolf from the door”, an idiom which means keeping hunger and poverty at bay. He outdid himself by eventually completing 100km on 4 June, supported by community and business leaders who joined him in taking the last steps of a significant journey.

“The Comrades Marathon was cancelled this year, so Solly did his own Comrades and beyond,” says Howard Sackstein, who was the master of ceremonies on 4 June, a day of discussion and celebration as Krok completed his goal. “To walk 100km at 91 years of age is a remarkable physical feat, especially with such energy and enthusiasm.”

Krok was joined by leaders in the business and non-government sectors, such as Discovery Chief Executive Adrian Gore; Afrika Tikkun Chief Executive Marc Lubner; Michael Rudolph, representing the Siyakhana Initiative and the University of Johannesburg; ArkKonsult Chief Executive Dr Ivor Blumenthal; top tech journalist Arthur Goldstuck; and personalities from the media.

They walked and talked about everything from food security to job creation, which are just some of Krok’s passions. “We had beekeepers and people talking about worm farms and food gardens,” says Sackstein. “Solly is so concerned about small businesses that after every discussion, he asked, ‘How can we create jobs?’ or ‘How do we start a business?’”

Another of Krok’s passion is technology. When he was walking with Goldstuck, “Solly pointed out that businesses must use search engine optimisation (SEO) to be more visible online. Arthur was astounded to hear this from someone who is 91 years old,” says Sackstein.

Meanwhile, “Every few laps, Solly’s biokineticist assessed him, and he just kept going. At times, those walking with him had to speed up to keep up! He was so jovial, dancing in the street. The last lap was a socially distant celebration. Neighbours came out in their masks, and we were all waving South African flags. It was a special moment for him and this country. He will go on to raise millions,” says Sackstein.

Krok said he felt “exhausted but exhilarated” after reaching his goal. “I’ve never walked or run in my life, and at first it wasn’t easy. But one day, soon after I began the challenge, I saw the fence ahead of me in the distance and realised I could do it – I just had to reach the fence. The lesson is to take small steps to reach a big goal.”

He took those small steps every day, rain or shine, sometimes accompanied by friends or family at a distance, but mostly on his own. The distance he walked – around an enclosed area near his home – was measured by an online application and checked by a chartered accountant.

“The funny thing is, I think I’m young!” laughs Krok. “My mindset is to be positive in life. I pushed myself, and I think I will keep going.” He is full of ideas, such as encouraging other elderly people to take similar walks, or teaming up with icons like Moore to form a club of seniors taking on such challenges.

He says it all began when he was talking to Gore about the long-term effects of the pandemic on South Africa’s most vulnerable. “I said what’s worrying me is that the poor will remain poor after COVID-19, and the welfare initiatives may stop. He challenged me to do something like this walk, and I took on the challenge!”

Initial funds raised will go to Afrika Tikkun and Siyakhana to provide food parcels and training for those in need. “You have to help people to feed themselves,” Krok says. He is excited about the opportunities that our rapidly changing world can give to those who are often marginalised.

He envisions people selling home-grown fruit and vegetables online, being able to work remotely, or training themselves using online resources. Another idea is to ask wealthier South Africans who are marking a special occasion to donate towards the planting of fruit and vegetable gardens for the needy in the tradition of Jews planting trees in Israel to celebrate milestones or remember a loved one.

“What’s unique about this venture is first, Solly’s age, and second, his vision of sustainable food projects,” says Sackstein. “He isn’t just raising money, giving it to those in need, and walking away. He is asking, ‘How do we leave a legacy so that hunger doesn’t continue?’ That’s why he is pushing for new businesses and for people to grow their own food. At a time of chaos and crisis, to have that long-term vision is unique.”

Krok has seen a lot in his lifetime, and he believes the COVID-19 pandemic is “the worst crisis the world has seen in 1 000 years”. At the same time, he believes we can empower ourselves in the face of such darkness. “Have a positive approach, visualise success, and make it happen. Have passion. Life is for the living!”

To the Jewish community, he says it’s more important than ever to unite and help our fellow South Africans. “Life is precious. to save one soul is to save the whole world. We must do everything we can to support others, no matter their race, colour, or creed.”

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