Let our Mandela Day deeds kick-start lasting change for those in need

Please see photos here, here, here and here.

As we celebrate Mandela Day – and as many South Africans give up their time to assist those in need – we are reminded once more of all the work that still needs to be done to make our country and our economy more fair and inclusive.

Far too many of our citizens face unimaginable hardship every day, and this situation has worsened a great deal since our economy was paralyzed by three months of lockdown.

The streets of our cities and towns have long been home to thousands of South Africans locked out of the economy and with nowhere else to go. Their numbers have swelled since our country was shut down. Every day, more men and women join the ranks of the homeless and risk becoming “forgotten” citizens in their own country.

This is where the efforts of a caring government can really make a difference. The service provided by the City of Cape Town to the homeless community at the Culemborg Safe Space is life-changing for many. This is because the goal here is not only to provide a bed and a meal, but to also help people back onto a better path.

This centre here at Culemborg offers people a place to live for six months, during which time they receive various forms of administrative assistance – as well as a development plan – to help turn their lives around.

Here they will receive help to obtain missing documentation such as IDs, and they have access to the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) jobs programme. There is a full-time medical officer on site, and there are people to help residents deal with issues such as drug addiction and gender-based violence trauma.

This Culemborg 1 Safe Space was opened two years ago and currently, with social distancing protocols in place, has 118 residents. Normally this would be 200. The Culemborg 2 centre next door has another 96 residents. The City of Cape Town is busy expanding this Safe Space programme to various other parts of the city, and by the end of the year they will accommodate 1,100 residents across the metro. Without social distancing, this could be increased to 3,000.

Today we will be handing out food packages to residents here at Culemborg that were prepared by DA activists. We have also arranged for barbers to come and offer haircuts to residents. These are small gestures, but it is important that the men and women here do not feel invisible and ignored.

However, our deeds on Mandela Day cannot remain once-off efforts. They will only have true meaning if they spur us into action to find lasting solutions to these challenges. While we’re re-imagining a post-Covid world, let us imagine one in which a clear path exists for these marginalised men and women to reintegrate back into society and the economy.

The gestures we see on Mandela Day may not solve the many problems in our society, but what this day does is display the empathy, generosity and ingenuity of the people of South Africa. It shows that we don’t have to always rely on a disinterested and incapable government for solutions.

There is enough will and drive among individuals, civil society and business to step in where government drops the ball. That is the power me must harness if we’re to rebuild our country the way we want it to be.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court