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These Homeless Men in South Africa Turned Lockdown Into a 'Life-Changing' Agricultural Project


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Homelessness is a massive problem in South Africa and around the world. Creating opportunities that can help to give people experiencing homelessness the means to provide for themselves, as well as giving them sustainable shelter, are steps towards achieving the UN's Global Goals. Goal 11 calls for safe and affordable housing for everyone, and you can join us in making sure that this goal can be achieved by taking action here

While under lockdown in a temporary shelter in KwaZulu-Natal Province (KZN), a group of men experiencing homelessness,  who found themselves bored under the regulations, decided to plant vegetables to keep themselves busy throughout the quarantine. 

According to EyeWitness News (EWN), in June while the country was on lockdown level three — when citizens were only allowed to leave their homes to exercise and acquire basic needs — the men took it upon themselves to source donations for seeds and tools to get them started on a gardening project. They planted a variety of vegetables and herbs including spinach, tomatoes, carrots, spring onions, and green peppers. 

Today their vegetables are ready to harvest and they have begun selling them to members of the public with help from the eThekwini Municipality and supportive NGOs. 

Sandile Mthembu, one of the men who helped launch this project, told EWN that it has changed his life. “We sell our vegetables and we take this money and help people who want to go home and people who need to be assisted,” he said. 

Nomusa Shembe from the eThekwini Municipality’s safer cities division told EWN: “During the time of the lockdown, we realised that people were finding it difficult to cope with being non-productive and doing nothing during the day, and then we decided we are going to get something that is going to occupy them on a regular basis. And on this site, they decided to do the gardening.”

According to EWN, the municipality has been motivated by the effort of these men to start developing and supporting projects such as this one. As the agriculture project is based in a temporary shelter, city officials are now committed to creating strategies to sustain this and other projects beyond 2020. 

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While this is encouraging, a long-term plan has yet to be announced by most provincial governments, including KZN, outlining what will happen to the temporary homeless shelters and the people living in them as the national lockdown eases. 

Limpopo Province has already started to shut down their shelters, having been able to reunite the majority of inhabitants with family members across the country. 

The KZN provincial government has also been on a mission to reunite those who are homeless with their families, but their success in this endeavour has not been enough to justify shutting down the shelters as yet. 

The delay in a strategy for the temporary shelters in KZN at least allows for the agriculture project to continue as the shelters remain fully functional. 

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