The remainder of last week was spent finalising story ideas, pitching stories and doing some foundation research.
My group’s topic for in-depth is “culture and community”. I have decided to look into how the community cares for the homeless and destitute.
Homelessness is a major issue, not only in Fordsburg but in Johannesburg as a whole. The city is full of hopeful souls who have not managed to make it in the city of gold.
My conversation last week with the man living on Fourteenth Street was the catalyst for my decision to look into how the homeless are cared for by the greater community. It fascinated me that he would choose that quiet, sleepy area of the city and that once bustling and now abandoned street corner to sell his mix-match collection of books and trinkets.
My first plan of action was to visit relief organisations and shelters in the area who could help me integrate into the community.
Reuven and I decided to pair up today as we were going to similar places. As we walked the 2km from Oriental Plaza to Fietas we saw two men zig-zagging across the pavement towards us. Their arms drapped around each others shoulders, they greeted us as they staggered past and told Reuven that they really enjoyed his television show (which he doesn’t have). Clearly we looked like journalists.
Our first stop was Jan Hofmeyer Community Services (JHCS) who run a feeding scheme out of a church built in 1895. The red walled, green zinc roofed building is about 8m wide and 15m long with creaky wooden floors and a high peaked ceiling. What I imagine was once the vestry is now a kitchen capable of feeding the close to 300 people who eat lunch there everyday.
We spoke to the manager, Linda Pretorius who said she had come to the church as a child growing up in Mayfair. After moving to the Cape she returned to the area and was heartbroken to see how many people where struggling. She joined the centre two years ago. They provide one meal a day to pensioners, school children and parents who come from all over Johannesburg for the daily meal. The centre also runs a nursery school and after school programme a few streets away where children are prepared to enter primary school and helped with their homework.
We then walked to Fordsburg, the walk in the midday sun during the heatwave we are currently experiencing was not the best idea in retrospect. After a quick juice stop at Burger King and two cold drink refills we headed to the Gift of the Giver Foundation office in Mint street.
As we tried to find the Gift of the Giver office, we were approached by a young man who asked for some food. I didn’t have any food so I gave him my small cup of Mountain Dew.
Gift of the Givers focuses on disaster relief and helps those who visit the branch. They recommended we visit the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF) on the next block.
We spoke to Javed Hoosen who explained that Zakah is a tithe given by members of the Muslim community that is used for social development and enrichment. SANZAF is responsible for distributing funds in a way that empowers individuals in the community who are destitute or struggling financially due to crisis.
The interactions with JHCS and SANZAF got me thinking about the influence of culture and religion when it comes to helping the homeless. Most religions have practices such as tithing or highlight the importance of taking care of the less fortunate but how do these things play out in the Fordsburg, Mayfair and Fietas areas?
Our final stop was The Salvation Army in 8th Avenue. We had walked passed here on our tour last week so we had an idea of where to go. As we walked through the busy streets of Fordsburg, passed street fruit sellers and clothing stores, we crossed Albertina Sisulu towards a smaller, yet still busy side street. As we turned into the street a barefoot man in mix-matched clothes got up from the floor. I didn’t think much of it at first but as we walked the block towards The Salvation Army I couldn’t help but notice him walking uncomfortably close to Reuven.
We saw Michelle and Masego in the street and stopped to see how they were doing. The man then stopped next to Reuven. Masego asked if he was with us and when we said he wasn’t Michelle asked what he wanted. “I am thirsty” he responded, one hand holding his groin and the other clutching a sharpened tree branch. After some awkward staring and we-don’t-have-anything gestures he reluctantly walked away.
The Salvation Army’s front gate was locked and there were no responses as we called out or knocked on the gate. We were still a bit rattled from our previous encounter so we called it a day and walked the 10 or so blocks back to Oriental Plaza where we met the rest of the people in the car pool and headed back to Wits.
My story is slowly coming together and it is interesting to see how the topic of homelessness and community wove it’s way into my day. I did not have to look far to see the need in the area or those who try help alleviate it. There are multiple stories to be told from this fairly small area of Johannesburg.