STATEMENT BY THE CITY’S MAYORAL COMMITTEE MEMBER FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT AND EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT, COUNCILLOR SUZETTE LITTLE
With the festive season once again upon us, many people are embracing the spirit of giving – and rightly so, even though one would expect that spirit to prevail all year round.
But just as we would give and do for our friends and loved ones with due consideration – often mulling for months about the perfect gifts – I would urge our residents and visitors to employ the same care when they want to give to their fellow man or woman living on the street.
Cape Town, like many other cities around the world, has a complex challenge in dealing with street people. It is a highly emotive issue, made all the more challenging by divergent opinions about roles and responsibilities and whether the authorities are doing enough.
The debate is a valid one and I do not for a moment want to suggest that the City’s Street People Policy is fool-proof. But allow me to shift the focus for a moment and opine on what the public is doing to help people off the streets.
A plate of food or a cash handout is a Band-Aid. It addresses the symptom, but ignores the problem. Tomorrow, the person is still on the street, seeking another Band-Aid to plaster over a wound that will never heal.
I want to ask the residents of Cape Town to help our street people by instead donating to organisations that are equipped to provide the more long-term interventions and get the person off the street – for good. Or, if you have it in you, help to reintegrate the person on your own steam. Take an interest in their life. Help them find their family, help them find a job, help restore their dignity.
Recently, a Fish Hoek resident wrote to the City, praising the efforts of our reintegration officers – in particular Pheneous (Akhona) Mvakwendlu – in helping to reunite a woman with her relatives and return home to Rustenburg in the North-West Province. This is an extract from the letter:
I got to know Brendelina Khumalo, an elderly homeless lady in Fish Hoek some months before this year’s winter. Some fellow Fish Hoek residents and our Somali Cafe owner also knew her and between us we helped her here and there. However, as winter approached, I took her to the provincial Social Development office in Fish Hoek where the staff were, with respect, polite but wholly inefficient in getting her into a shelter, provide any form of relief or even a contact number at a support organisation.
In August I learnt for the first time about the existence of the Muizenberg Improvement District (MID). The Director of MID put me in touch with City officials, Jody and Akhona, who they told me dealt with the homeless across the entire city.
At that stage I was not convinced that it was viable to try to reunite her with her family, but Jody, Akhona and others drove through to Fish Hoek and got her into the Haven Shelter in Simon’s Town for a few days. Akhona also had her seen to by the False Bay Clinic. She had no ID and no income.
If you contact Akhona, I’ll leave him to fill in the many gaps from there but this week Monday, he phoned to tell me Brendelina boarded a bus to Rustenburg from Cape Town along with a relative from Langa that Akhona and his team had managed to track down. Brendelina is originally from Rustenburg where she still has family. Her brother in Langa sponsored the two tickets up north.
Under Akhona’s care and dedication to ‘the case’ over several months, he had also managed to organise a disability grant for her due to an asthma condition as well as find the missing ID that had been in safekeeping by one of her relatives. This of course enables Brendelina to now legitimately attend clinics and when 60 years old in the near future, apply for a SASSA grant.
Akhona personally went to see Brendelina off at the bus and met her brother from Langa to ensure all arrangements were properly organised for the trip and her future. He also didn’t forget to keep me in the loop, which is wonderful. Now at least I can tell all who knew her in Fish Hoek where she is and what happened to her. During the winter there were times that one wondered if she had survived the cold.
This story underpins the wonderful work that the City’s Reintegration Unit is doing, but it is also an example of the kind of partnerships we need with members of the public if we are to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our street people. I salute the resident for taking Mrs Khumalo’s plight to heart and going the extra mile to ensure a brighter future for her. This is the kind of commitment we need from government, and also the general public if we are serious about changing the fortunes of our street people.