People freezing In South Africa receive life-saving blankets from South Africa Friends Of Israel
By Kenneth Mokgatlhe ,newspaper columnist and former spokesman for the Pan African Congress.
South Africa’s biggest city Johannesburg may have attracted its earliest pioneers with the finding of gold, today however, there is little golden for many of its citizens shivering in winter. Take for example Eldorado Park – not a remote rural village – but a suburb of Johannesburg where on the 8th July 2019, the Paramount Chief of the Gonaqua Khoisan Tribe, Cornelius Botha, received on behalf of many of its destitute and homeless – many of them elderly – blankets from the South Africa Friends of Israel (SAFI) to provide much needed warmth during the cold period, where temperatures were dropping to life- threatening lows.
Winter Of Our Discontent
While winter is welcomed by those with fashionable coats and luxurious homes, there are the many in the same cities in South Africa who don’t have money to buy warm clothing or blankets or pay for electricity for heaters to keep them warm during the cold.
It was this horrendous situation that SAFI sought in its own small way, to address.
Gavi Sacks, National Chairman of the (SAFI), explained that this “was only our first stop on the Blankets of Hope Drive.” The organisation is committed “to helping South Africa’s truly vulnerable and often forgotten homeless people,” he added.
To understand how “vulnerable” and “forgotten” the words of local Eldorado Park resident, Elija Williams resonate following the protests there in 2017 over the lack of housing and jobs. Accusing the politicians of only visiting the area when votes are needed to win elections, Williams said:
“My grandmother died living in a shack. I’m most probably going to die living in a shack. I don’t want my child to also have to live their entire life in a shack with no electricity.”
A philanthropic organisation in Israel donated 3000 blankets (in total) for SAFI to handout. SAFI then arranged for the Blanket drives where hot soup and bread was also handed out.
Next stop on the Blankets of Hope Drive, was Booysens where 1500 blankets, collected by SAFI, were distributed to the needy. Over and above the blankets handed out to various communities across Johannesburg, “SAFI has been providing nourishment in this cold weather serving soup and bread rolls in strategically placed areas,” said Sacks.
Disparity To Despair
The May 13, 2019 Cover Story in TIME examined South Africa as “the world’s most unequal country.” It showed pictorially frames of extreme poverty adjacent to extreme luxury as depicted in one frame of a shanty town next to a golf course in Durban, Kwazulu-Natal.
With an escalating cost of living and turbulent political situation, the gap between the have and have nots is widening at an alarming rate.
Johannesburg is known to be the destination of choice for many who have come seeking employment but sadly there are many homeless people who sleep in the streets, abandoned buildings or under bridges. Buildings such as churches or public halls are closed, and these helpless people cannot access those buildings leaving them no choice but to sleep in the streets – even in winter. There seems to be an inherent lack of shelters or places where they can find respite from the bitter cold and crime that is so prevalent.
It is in this cold ‘climate’, that the ‘warm’ help such as from South African Friends of Israel is so appreciated.
Chief Cornelius Botha and Eldorado Park Pastor Errol Jacobs expressed gratitude to SAFI, lamenting how their communities are too often “forgotten”. Welcoming the blankets and food, they expressed that it was indeed “a blessing from God.”
At a time when the world seems to polarized and people seems to become more insular, it is really heartwarming to remember that there are many who still exemplify generosity.
Kindness is the paramount gift you can give another person.
Kenneth Mokgatlhe holds BA Honours (political science) from the University of Limpopo. He was a spokesperson of the Pan Africanist Congress from 2015 to 2018. Mokgatlhe has written for Political Analysis South Africa, and is a frequent columnist for South African papers, notably – The Star, Sunday Independent, Sowetan and Cape Times.