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Local Elections: #City4All


Homeless people, like all who live in South Africa, are guaranteed certain rights in the SA Constitution.  Yet policies and practices by Municipalities mean that in our cities the rights of the homeless are consistently violated. 

The National Homeless Network is using the 2021 Municipal elections to draw attention to these issues and challenge political parties to commit to implementing a clear set of simple actions should they have control of the new city councils. 

Barney Pityana is an Ambassador for the National Homeless Manifesto. He is renowned as an Anglican priest, theologian, and human rights lawyer.  Barney has been Chair of the South African Human Rights Commission and also served on the AU’s African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.  He was Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UNISA and is currently President of Convocation of the University of Cape Town.  With Steve Biko, he was a founder of the SA Students’ Organisation of the Black Consciousness Movement.

This ‘National Homeless Manifesto’ aims to ensure that issues that affect the homeless are not ignored by political parties.  The manifesto focuses on five particular areas, all of which can be actioned by local government:

  1. Shelter
  2. Access to healthcare
  3. Access to sanitation and ablution facilities
  4. Equal treatment by local law and security forces
  5. Increasing economic opportunity

The Manifesto was formulated by starting with an analysis of the rights afforded by the South African Constitution and by international rights treaties; by drawing on the lived experience of homeless people in each city, demands were formulated to redress these rights violations.

The campaign will challenge the parties and candidates running in each major metropolitan area to commit to delivering on these demands – or, if not, to explain why.  But since the specific delivery of these varies across the country, each city has created a local set of demands under these five headings.  The specific demands are not broad, national policies which are easy for politicians to sign up for since they know they are too vague to tie down.  Instead, they are specific local demands for each city covering some or all of these five areas. 

Details about the specific demands for each city can be obtained from the following members of the National Homeless Network:

The following examples will show, we believe, that the demands are not only good for homeless people but also benefit the wider citizenry:

  • Shelter (example from eThekwini): The hard lockdown demonstrated that it is possible for eThekwini municipality to provide safe sleeping spaces.  We have seen that it is a benefit – not just to the homeless but also for the wider citizenry of Durban – that people are not resigned to sleeping in shop doorways, parks, beaches etc.  Our demand is that eThekwini continue to support the new women’s shelter and Safe Open Sleeping spaces, either managing them or funding others to manage them on their behalf.   We will further campaign for an extension and formalisation of the Safe Open Sleeping spaces to reach a total capacity of 1,000 people within 12 months across several sites.
  • Access to healthcare (example from Msunduzi): The provision of early intervention primary healthcare not only ensures that small health problems do not become greater but also is part of the front line in preventing outbreaks of contagious disease as has been seen clearly with COVID.  We demand that Msunduzi city health services will provide both mobile and located primary health services that are accessible to and customer friendly for people living on the streets.  Furthermore, we demand that the city work urgently with KZN Province Social Development to respond to the need for drug and alcohol rehabilitation for this impoverished community.
  • Access to sanitation and ablution facilities (example from Mangaung): At present there are NO sanitation and / or ablution facilities for homeless people in the city of Bloemfontein.  This is not only demeaning for homeless people but is a serious infringement of their basic human rights.  The accompanying health risks, and the role this plays on the polluted state of our city, cannot be over-emphasised. We therefore demand the provision of basic sanitation facilities in our city accessible to the homeless 24 hours a day, and run by competent municipal staff.
  • Equal treatment by the Law (example from Tshwane): We demand that the city of Tshwane prohibit any action by Municipal staff that results in the confiscation or destruction of property of homeless persons, unless allowed by a court order, and to take drastic actions against any of its members who engage in such unlawful activity.  We also demand that the city address the issue of arrest quotas since these drive arbitrary arrests of homeless persons. 
  • Increasing Economic Opportunity (example from Cape Town): Many people become homeless and remain homeless because they do not have the chance to work for a living.  Cape Town is an economic hub which has the resources to generate work that will not only restore dignity but give people a pathway out of homelessness.  We demand that the City of Cape Town works with partners to provide at least 1000 long-term work-based skills development opportunities for homeless people linked to structured, developmental rehabilitation programmes.

Most of the organisations in the National Homeless Network, and many of our supporters, find inspiration and motivation in their religious faith.  We therefore have included in our campaign for the Municipal Elections two opportunities for people to pray.

Why a Prayer Circle?

The idea of a Prayer Circle is a long-established one in many traditions, whereby people are praying for each other.  We believe that this also ties in with a popular South African theme ‘Make the circle bigger’: we are drawing in more people to pray with us; we are drawing in more faith traditions to work together; we are drawing marginalised people into the circle of who is a voter; we are drawing the issues of the homeless into the circle of what is prioritised by Municipalities; in a circle we are all equal, just as we are as voters; and the strength of a circle is dependent on the strength of all even the weakest members.  This inclusive image of a circle is the opposite of a ‘laager’ mentality when a circle is used to defend and exclude.  South Africa post-1994 should be a country committed to ‘making the circle bigger’.

The first is a series of Christian prayers written by members of various denominations and in several of the languages of South Africa.  The prayers are not translations but rather each one has been written directly in each language, focusing on 3 things:

  • That the elections will be peaceful
  • That voters will exercise their right in a responsible way which consider the needs of all the residents of our cities, including the poorest
  • That those running for office and those elected will understand the sacred duty they have to work for the good of all, especially the most vulnerable

(There are some languages missing; if you would like supplement our list please contact raymond@denishurleycentre.org )

Congregations (across the denominations) are being asked to include a version of the prayer in whatever way works for them: as part of every Sunday service between now and the elections, as part of a few Sunday services, distributed to prayer groups, posted on their social media, etc.  We also hope that individuals will use this prayer regularly from now until 1 November.

You can download the individual jpgs of the prayers which are then very easy to share on Facebook, What’s App, etc.  Or you can download the pdf’s which contain all the prayers: in one format they are 1 per page; in the other they are set as 2 per page of A4 to make printing easier.   

Later in the campaign we will be planning an Interfaith initiative.  This will start on Sunday 10 October (World Homeless Day) and be focused on the last 22 days before election day (on 1 November).  There will be a daily pre-recorded 10 min prayer (each day led by a different denomination/ faith) broadcast on You Tube: people can tune in when it is launched and pray in real time; and they can watch at any time they wish afterwards. 

Each day would be prepared by a different faith tradition/ religious leader using the style of prayer and language that is suited to them.  In this way the prayers of all parts of the community are drawn together in one virtual space and participants can ‘tune in’ for the ones that interest them.  Each city will prepare its own circle so that it is local people who are being used (though of course, being on the net, everything is mutually accessible). 

Download a Prayer for Municipal Elections in your preferred language: