WOW!! 2021 has already been a crazy busy year at Living Hope! What a blessing to be a blessing, especially as the Masi fire relief efforts are still ongoing. To coordinate this response has truly been a mammoth effort.
As per the phases involved in any disaster, the initial phase of the public dropping off donated goods came to a close on Jan 14th. Living Hope actually had to close donations, as our facilities proved to be completely insufficient! After we had filled up every area in our Farm buildings, in our Prevention buildings and our Chapel including the hallways, we even had to use spare Ward space in our hospital to store goods! It became very clear that the response was far greater than we could physically cope within our current buildings. To date, we have had 6 shipping containers fully loaded on our site. This also proved to be too little space, so we then rented 2 empty shops across the road from us around, each 160m². They are literally stacked from floor to ceiling with goods!!
It has been heartening to see the enormous response in generosity, time, use of their vehicles, helpfulness and volunteerism of people. The Scouting movement of Cape Town was amazing, as was the Emergency Volunteer Services of Ocean View. People continued to volunteer all the way through into the new year up until about the 4th or 5th January. All goods were sorted into various containers, shops and our halls. For instance, we have a shipping container full of toys. We have 2 or 3 shipping containers of bed linen and curtains. We have shops full of mattresses and blankets. Sorting alone and the distribution of goods has been a significant logistical undertaking.
Living Hope was very involved with the leaders of the 2 sections of Masi who had lost everything, Wetlands B and C. We held daily meetings and sometimes multiple daily meetings with the leaders of these areas. We also held extensive meetings with both City officials and politicians, Provincial authorities and National authorities. Living Hope hosted the National Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu as well as hosted the National Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu. These Ministers made Living Hope their base while in Cape Town and operated their press conferences and meetings from Living Hope premises. We have also hosted the Provincial MEC’s of Social Development and Housing. The Mayor of Cape Town, Alderman Dan Plato also visited along with several other high profile politicians’ visits. We have interacted extensively with the Director Generals of these departments both Nationally and Provincially. The City has utilised our facilities extensively and had meetings on site every day since the beginning of the year meeting with every individual who lost their home. This too has been a logistical difficulty as there are so called “shack landlords” who often “owned” the home. There has been much debate as to who should receive the title deed and the new home. It has been decided that only fire victims will get the home and not the landlord, which has caused some consternation and many challenges in the allocation of new homes.
After many meetings with all 3 tiers of government it was decided that the City would build Emergency homes which are corrugated iron structures 6m x 3m with concrete floors on parts of the fire site as well as on the Sports fields. These homes are owned by the city and are given rent free to the fire victims. They will be housed in these temporary Emergency homes for a couple of months while permanent, title-deeded homes are built for them with Alternative Building Technology materials on another vacant site adjacent to Masiphumelele. Once that site is built the current fire site of Emergency homes will be demolished and more long term title-deeded homes will be built on Wetlands B and C sites. As at close of business on 9 February 2021, 343 units have been constructed, while 261 have been handed over to fire victims.
What now takes place now is that we are distributing directly to the beneficiaries as they move into their newly built temporary home. We have also had to do extensive data capturing, seeking to get a real list of the actual fire victims. This has undergone many revisions with the City and Community leaders. The City gives us a list of people who are receiving homes on a particular day. Everyone receiving goods signs against this list. The City gives them their key and certificate of occupancy and we deliver a large amount of goods, which includes 2 mattresses, 2 blankets, 2 pillows, sheets and other bedding like duvet and covers. We distribute 2 further hygiene packs and a full box of household goods which includes pots, pans, cutlery, crockery – making up a basic kitchen. Curtains, carpet and a significant food parcel are also delivered along with the 2 plate stoves we have purchased for everyone. A household assessment is done to see what other needs are there and those who need a bed or children who need toys, then that distribution is made subsequently after the assessment. This means Living Hope has been able to furnish the basic items directly into people’s homes. This has avoided the long queue system and trying to find the rightful owners and not opportunists in queues. However, it means that distribution is going to take place for the next 2 months. We are needing to get some longer-term transport arrangement in place and a paid team of staff to do these distributions over the next 2 months.
The financial outpouring of gifts has been enormous and quite a lot of the above items have had to be purchased. We have bought R700,000 worth of blankets, 1200 two plates stove at a cost of R210,000, Cutlery and Crockery to the value of R75,000, over a 1000 plastic buckets for R20,000, still in the process of buying curtains for many houses, lots of packaging type items, have had to hire trailers and bakkies to get the goods to Masiphumelele and the list can go on and on. We are still purchasing things like pots etc as we go along. Whatever leftover money we have in the Disaster Fund when everyone is in their homes, we will divide it amongst all the fire victims using the E-Wallet platform.
The generosity of the broader community towards the fire response has once again shown the huge trust that people have placed in Living Hope. We have received countless numbers of thanks, compliments and people who gave only because of our many years of credibility. What a responsibility to keep our standards high and to conduct ourselves so that we are above reproach! There are always a few social media “experts/armchair critics” who like to give their “expert input”, but both national and local media about Living Hope has been overwhelmingly positive. I have spoken on many radio stations, TV channels and done numerous newspaper interviews during this time. The Minister of Human Settlements, Lindiwe Sisulu, has sent a film crew to Living Hope to prepare a programme on Living Hope to be shown on SABC. She has unequivocally stated that our response has been the best she has seen in her experience in South Africa and asked if we could go national in Disaster Response!!! She told the Masiphumelele leaders how blessed they were to have Living Hope. Literally, thousands of people have passed through our gates as donors. Google Maps showed that between 17th and 31st December we had 12,900 people doing a search for Living Hope’s location! We are grateful for this positive exposure that will certainly extend the reputation of all of our programmes in the many other areas that we work.
What we have managed in these last weeks is truly only by God’s help and the generous support of our broader community, including other non-profits, civil service societies, churches and other faith-based initiatives, businesses and individual donors. We are humbled and grateful to God for His provision and care enabled through donors.
With great gratitude,
John V. Thomas
Executive Director Living Hope