I live on the edge of Van Riebeeck Park - that green triangle that links the city to the Table Mountain. In winter the stream that trickles through the park escalates to a mighty cascade that crashes over boulders until in dips below the streets of the city to meet the sea. The access to water and the proximity to the CBD has made the park an attractive site for people, who find themselves homeless in Cape Town, to set up camp. As we headed into lockdown these numbers were visibly growing. I chatted to a group if people staying in the park and gave my number to a young man called Walter Nyamugama – a tenuous lifeline to someone in the neighbourhood.
The week after lockdown sent me the following voice note from him:
We need to be heard, we really want to be safe, This is life threatening. We don’t know how this Covid 19 is going to affect us out here. Homeless people need to be heard
We started a WhatsApp dialogue, me from the safety of my home next to Van Riebeeck Park, him on the other side of the wall, under the trees stretching their autumn limbs to the mountain beyond.
My name is Walter, I’m 26 years old. I’m originally from Zimbabwe, I’m part of a homeless group of people in in Van Riebeeck Park under Table Mountain. Most of us here are informal traders in town and Camps Bay. Most of us were staying in town in lodges and backpacker dorms before the lockdown.
Walter is an artist, a trader and entrepreneur who has been transformed by the pandemic into a community leader, spokesperson, documentarian and project manager of note . He has risen to the occasion, where a system and society have failed. We have collaborated in seeking solutions. We have made friends, tried to temper hostility in the neighbourhood and forged relationships where we haven’t expected to.
The problem we face is fear – sanitation, food, confusion and fear of what is our future, how are we going to be safe?
While I have the luxury of navigating lockdown from the comfort of my home, Walter has been running a program, along with a committee of helpers to ensure that a group of 47 homeless people in Van Riebeeck Park receive weekly food parcels. To this purpose the Holy Trinity Church has provided a safe place for them to meet twice a week to manage the food donations, charge their phones and have access to WifF. This has been an immeasurable help. The inner city CANs, Ladles of Love and a host of caring individuals have offered continued and much needed support. But what remains a problem is that winter is looming and they are still homeless with no prospect of finding shelter provided by the city or government, with no family members to turn to, no safety nets.
How we respond as a community affects all of us. Their safety and wellness is ours too. This is one thing that Covid-19 has taught us. This is a moment to face our collective humanity and grow together.
The Good News
The group of supporters from Citybowl CANS joined forces with the Holy Trinity Church and The Haven Night Shelter to secure accommodation for 20 people from Van Riebeeck Park in an inner city backpackers lodge. The Haven Shelter has engaged the lodge as an essential service provider of shelter to the homeless and the CANs have committed to support the costs through fund-raising initiatives. Walter’s group will contribute to the costs by selling wire and bead art products. The church will continue to provide a place for food donation distribution and facilitate the distribution of the wire art products. Ladles of Love will support a daily meal.
We are excited about the inner city relationships and solidarity that has been built to create this solution and we hope that the model created here may be replicated to provide more accommodation opportunities.
On 3 June 2020 20 people who were sleeping moved into the lodge. After spending many nights out in the cold they now have a warm bed and access to sanitation and cooking facilities.
Many champions have worked to making this happen. Thank you. This is beautiful.
Its been an emotional day and night for all of us. My guys were just quiet and we all can't believe from the foot of Table Mountain were now in a warm place . It’s not something that has ever happened the way it has. Personally I can't contain my emotions. I’ve been through a lot as a leader - being part of and accepted in a community and helped by a community and change mentality of other people in the community - I SALUTE you guys GoD bless you and whatever you do ...I want this to be an example for all to know we are one people - colour or social status its all a mental barrier. Together were strong
Support This Initiative - Pub Quiz Time
This initiative will be the focus for the funds raised by our next Pub Quiz, presented by the sharp-witted John Keavy, just busting to create havoc with your heads.
Support the artists to regain their livlihoods - The Tree of LifeAt the end of April I celebrated my birthday under lockdown. Word got out across the fence and the artists in Van Riebeeck Park gifted me a Tree of Life wire artwork delivered with a voice note of song. To say this was a moment of pause and introspection is and understatement – a Tree of Life indeed.
This gift is for sharing. Support the artists to support themselves by donating here and receiving a Tree of Life artwork after lockdown.
Sculpture donation: R50
Bracelet donation: R 30