On 28 March 2020, Karibu! journalist Mzwandile Maila met with some homeless people to discuss the impact of coronavirus. Many homeless people in the area collect recyclable material that they sell for a living in the Merafong region. In these interviews, it became clear that the homeless have not been properly informed about the national state of disaster and the 21-day lockdown that the President announced recently.
“Yes, I do [know about the coronavirus]. I came across a flyer that was raising awareness about it”, one homeless man said. Originally from the Eastern Cape, he came to Gauteng looking for a job but could not find one. “I don’t have a family”, he added. “My parents passed on long time ago”. Now, this man sleeps anywhere – like under bridges and in abandoned buildings around Carletonville. He was unsure what would happen to homeless people like him as the lockdown continues.
Another displaced man worried about public spaces being closed during the lockdown. “The municipality has no emergency plans to provide shelter for us”, he said. “Some homeless people suffer from mental illness. There are also no drop-in centres or soup kitchens in the area like in Johannesburg”.
It is unclear whether infected unsheltered people will be moved to quarantine facilities during the lockdown. “We are going to die here”, he said, clearly very emotional. “The government has to do better to care and to protect us because the homeless are also human.” This is especially important because there is a greater potential of exposure to COVID-19 for homeless people and the lockdown will also negatively affect their ability to make livelihoods.
Many displaced people feel discriminated against by the government during this outbreak. They feel that the Merafong municipality is failing to provide adequate, accessible accommodation. The municipality has many unused buildings which it can use to accommodate homeless people. They demand that abandoned buildings be renovated and used for housing of homeless people. They also demand that government protect the homeless against COVID-19 by providing safety equipment and other materials needed.