All of a sudden, it’s here. The news that we as an organization have been dreading for the past few weeks; the certainty that everything can only get worse now: Khayelitsha, our Township in South Africa, reports the first person infected with Covid-19. A moment ago, we were thinking about how to teach our children to wash their hands – now, just a short time later, we are talking about issues of survival. In this post, I want to tell you what this means on the ground and focus on what we can do together to help all those who need our help more urgently than ever.
Community, solidarity, humanity. Values that seem to be more visible again in our Western society in these times than they have been for a long time, values that encourage and give hope. In the South African Townships, these values usually characterize the street scene, everyday life, survival. They call this philosophy of life “Ubuntu,” the Xhosa word for community, and even more so, for solidarity.
You can feel this solidarity everywhere; when you enter the Townships, it forms the first impression, and when you leave, it is what remains longest in your memory and heart. Because it becomes visible in this cordial atmosphere between the corrugated-iron huts. But currently the image is dominated by the military patrolling. The hot spots where we are active with Ubomi have always been called “lost areas”. Now the whole of Khayelitsha is sealed off and seems even more disconnected from the world and left to its own than it was before.
An Unfathomable Dimension of Poverty Is Developing
It has been just six weeks since I was with our children in the Township in Cape Town. In the two months on site, I have experienced many beautiful things with the children; but I have also seen and heard many violent things, often accompanied by the thought that there can be no worse suffering. Today I fear that it will be even more severe. I am very concerned that the poverty is reaching a dimension that I can no longer imagine and that is becoming life-threatening for many.
South Africa: Epicentre of the Corona Virus in Africa
Curfews, supply shortages, unemployment: already, poverty has intensified due to the measures taken to contain the spread of Covid-19 in South African Townships. It breaks my heart to think how incredibly our children and all the people in the Townships are already suffering – and will continue to suffer.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a state of emergency: A nationwide curfew has been in effect since March 25. In the country of 58 million people, the number of Covid-19 cases has risen to over 1200 (as of March 31). The funds for extensive testing are not available and very few people can afford to visit a doctor. The number of unreported cases is likely to be very high. If one looks at the dynamics in all countries where the pandemic has been present for some time, one can easily deduce a trend. Experts fear that the pathogen is quietly circulating in areas not yet officially affected. There is a threat of an uncontrollable Corona outbreak with very high infection rates: Just recently, the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis presented projections that 87,900 to 351,000 people could die in South Africa alone (as of March 24).
The first Corona-infected person has now been reported in Khayelitsha, and there is great concern that the virus is spreading unnoticed and uncontrolled in the Township, leaving people helpless against it.
Our Children also Belong to the High-Risk Group
The danger is huge that the virus will spread very quickly in our densely populated Townships and cause many deaths due to the high proportion of HIV and tuberculosis patients. In Khayelitsha alone, there are 6,000 new cases of tuberculosis every year, and a third of those affected die from it. In addition, South Africa has the highest number of HIV-infected people in the world, about 7.7 million. Here, a very large number of immunodeficient people are helplessly exposed to a virus. Unfortunately, this also affects many of our children.
Containment Measures Seem Impossible
The circumstances in the Township make an uncontrolled outbreak of Covid-19 easy: People here live densely packed in poverty. Violence and illness already dominate the daily lives of many. In most cases, up to fifteen families share one toilet and one water tap outside their huts. Even without a virus, adequate hygiene has long been a huge problem; hygienic conditions are not comparable with Western standards, and hygiene products are scarce or even non-existent. Isolation in cramped huts, where many people share a few square meters, is practically impossible. Temporary isolation may make sense in Western countries; in the Townships, it is actually incompatible with the reality of life.
Poverty is growing, pushing the poorest of the poor to the margins. Many people barely have enough money for food, let alone soap. Because of the situation, supply chains have already broken down. No one knows when a basic supply of food will be restored in the supermarkets. And where will the money for supplies come from then?
Unemployed from One Day to the Next
The few parents or caregivers of our children who have jobs are usually employed in the service sector and have now all lost their jobs. The already low incomes (on average about 200€/month) needed to provide for entire families are completely missing. There are no labour laws or welfare state regulations that could save them from an immediate, one hundred percent loss of income. There are no bailouts, no emergency billions for the economy. There is no system that creates prospect. There is no smooth descent, only the harsh reality that from one day to the next, there is no more income.
This also increases the risk of becoming a victim or “perpetrator” of ” acquisitive crime”. This involves food, medicines, hygiene articles and all items of any value greater than zero. The already poor security situation in the Township is visibly deteriorating. It is noticeable that the number of hungry people in the Townships is increasing. Children are the first to be affected, and the hardest.
For our Ubomi children, warm meals are completely eliminated due to the temporary closure. We are trying to provide for them in other ways. Left to their own, our children would struggle and we don’t know what paths they would take to get food. Food theft and prostitution of “older girls” are often the last resort of starving children. That is why we must act now!
What Ubomi Can Do
We have been thinking for weeks about how we can help here, especially since our Ubomi houses are temporarily closed and the curfew also applies to our employees. They must abide by it, even if it is difficult for them. Because the military does not ask nicely to go back home. They don’t waste time, as we know from previous experiences.
Our children need us now more than ever. An initial emergency response plan is in place – and this will only be the beginning. We will not abandon our children, families, neighbours, communities and we will do everything we can. And we ask you as Ubomi supporters: if you can, please help us. If Corona teaches us one thing, it is that we are all human beings and that Ubuntu has never been more important. “I am because we are”. Together we can try to minimize the suffering of this crisis – not only in our immediate neighbourhood, but also in our global neighbourhood.
How Can We Help in this Difficult Situation?
Issue Care and Supply:
The supply of food presents us with new challenges every day. Since no one can come to us in the Ubomi houses and we cannot come to the families, we have agreed on shopping vouchers at first. Families are given basic necessities at the Township supermarkets we trust, which we have listed and determined beforehand. Of course, this only works if these groceries are available. Furthermore, the “soup kitchen” is still an idea and it seems that we will get a permit for our houses, respectively that we will be able to cooperate with a school. For this we are still working on a safeguard, so that it does not come to unwanted mass gatherings, riots or assaults. We are working at full speed on solutions that have to be adapted to the situation. We are also thinking about medical care and are in talks with doctors about this.
Issue Courage to Face Life:
Our children were mainly on the streets for most of their lives before coming to our Ubomi House. Many children in the Township, when they have a home, often suffer terrible circumstances. We fear that the situation will worsen massively in the coming time. For this reason we want to encourage not only our Ubomi children, but all children in the Township and offer them something to distract them and something to look forward to. To this end, we are currently negotiating with a local television station for airtime for Ubomi with topics such as: “Life skills” and “Dance for all”. Of course, not everyone has a TV, but this is the only way to reach as many children in the Township as possible who need a little encouragement and distraction right now.
As soon as it is possible for us, we will of course open our Ubomi houses again. It can be observed that poverty is growing. The number of children we have to take in at Ubomi, because we do not have the heart to turn away the poorest of the poor, will increase. Looking to the future and especially to the implementation of the emergency plan, we appreciate any financial support. Any contribution, no matter how small, will help our children and families through a very distressing time. We need you now. Please support us. Every Euro counts.
IBAN: DE95 2505 0180 0910 3547 40.
Financial Institute: Sparkasse Hannover