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Written byZenith Phaal

The Humanitarian Epidemic of South Africa

South Africa has a growing issue that is getting worse every year. Something that is being perpetuated by the knock-on effects of Apartheid, and more recently Covid. Many of us live somewhat comfortably, but a staggering portion of the population is struggling to survive… Poverty-stricken in the harsh concrete jungle we call “The Heart of Cape Town”. Staving off hunger and creating a new life when you have nothing is possibly the most challenging thing one can do. The homeless, the disadvantaged and the persecuted need support. There are programs and organizations aiming to help those in need, but there is no magic bullet for change. More needs to be done to ensure the inequalities prevalent in South Africa are reduced as much as possible, for the good of the nation. For the good of its people

The sad fact is that most people with tinted Mercedes windows don’t look over the hood of their car and see struggling human beings on the other side as a priority. The privileged few may view homelessness and vagrancy as an issue, an annoyance, or simply something unsavoury… but not as the human rights issue that it is. I think the rich, those who can make the most difference in this case, have been desensitized to the fact that people living in extreme poverty are people just like them. This level of inequality is not normal. It’s not right. 

Our fellow man is suffering the aftershock of Apartheid. Relocation laws promoting persecution and racism have deeply affected our world today. We may be equal in a legal sense, but in the most literal sense, that could not be further from the truth. The government is failing the majority, in favour of the wealthy few. When our country is the most unequal in the world, with more than 50 percent of the population living in poverty, over 200,000 of which are homeless, it becomes apparent that our government has not put in the necessary work to adequately support its people. It’s left to people like Geoff Burton, the founder of The Carpenter’s Shop aimed to teach carpentry skills to people on the street, leading them to a sustainable income and positive way of life.

The Geoff Burton House has subsequently been used to provide food every December since 2014, as a part of the #Feed5000 program. As of 2019, this institution was rebranded to The Hope Exchange, focussing on providing food to the less fortunate every single week, as well as creating meaningful change in the lives of those who need it. The Hope Exchange is on a mission to educate, feed and shelter those without homes. This NGO is an absolute godsend and needs all the support it can get.

The Hope Exchange has received money from the government, but the majority of their revenue they’ve brought in themselves, through their car wash and other fundrasiers or cash from donors. The government needs to support NGOs like this one, but what’s the incentive for doing so?

To combat homelessness NGOs need more financial and legislative help. It’s not a cheap or easy thing to do but getting as many homeless people off the streets as possible will have a domino effect that will greatly and positively impact the country. It’s an obligation for the government to do more for its people. Not the bare minimum. Having people living in tents in absolute poverty literally a few hundred meters away from The Houses of Parliament, the Symbol of order and governance for the entire nation is an absolute and utter tragedy. Poverty and inequality to this degree are signs of a failing governmental body. It NEEDS to invest money, time, energy and love back into the people it was designed to serve and protect. Creating generational change is the only way to solve the issue of extreme poverty that’s worsened since Apartheid and that’s been recently aggravated by Covid.

Sadly, the effect of Covid on the everyday household has been immense, and the effect on the poor and the needy has been unbelievably harsh and unforgiving. By June of 2020, 37% of households had lost income for any kind of food. People who were not protected by legal contracts were forcibly removed. The intense increase of people losing their homes had the ill-fated outcome of a shortage of beds in shelters. You were, as a homeless person, lucky to find an open bed in a shelter. With the great increase in homelessness finding a decent place to sleep became extremely unlikely and a hot meal just as unlikely. With Lockdown’s stringent laws, many shelters and safe havens for the poor were closed due to the risk factor of continuing operations. Many stayed open when they could, and these places are still serving the people in the best way they can.

I know I’ve mainly focused on the work of The Hope Exchange, but it’s not the only godsend for the people. There are other organizations bent on supporting everyone they can. There are plenty of organizations worth supporting if you can afford to. The Haven Night Shelter is a great one with a dozen shelters around Cape Town working to aid those in need of physical care, social welfare and a bed to sleep in. Ladles of Love has been instrumental in providing sustenance for the poor, with over 33 million portions served and 126 community kitchens established. Finally, in my opinion, Youth Solutions Africa, is probably the most important of all the NGOs I want to mention. It may not have the biggest immediate effect, but by supporting the youth and teaching them skills that may result in employment and work it is slowly lessening the effects of Apartheid and helping to create a sustainable means of self-reliance.

Ultimately, creating generational change will have the biggest impact on the future of our country and our people. It is the only true way to end homelessness and lessen the inequality so prevalent in our nation’s past. Supporting any institution that provides real assistance to the less fortunate has a positive effect. Especially when the support is large sums of money from rich Mercedes driving donors *cough cough*. It allows the less fortunate to spend more time working to overcome the challenges life has thrown at them. Only one day when all the people in South Africa have been fed, every human being has a bed to sleep in and a government that supports those who are struggling at every turn, then this issue will be over. Until that day arrives, we must do our best to assist in any way we can. The government must do more. We must do more. Sell your Mercedes. Buy a Corolla. Donate time and energy to helping those around you. Things only change when we do.