Church in South Africa Reaches Out to Poor Families Defying Lockdown to Beg

Some residents in South Africa protests over lack of food and jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Credit: Dino Lloyd/Gallo Images via Getty Images

Hard pressed to evade starvation amid stringent COVID-19 restrictions, poor families in South Africa are risking contagion and moving from house to house to beg, a situation that has attracted the attention of Salesian missionaries working in the Southern African country.

Reports by indicate that prolonged lockdown due to the pandemic is throwing people in South Africa into despair due to poverty and hunger.

“Our surrounding communities are in a struggle day by day,” Jessica Poley, a Salesian volunteer in Ennerdale said in a report that was published by, the official news service of the Salesian Missions USA, which is the development arm of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB).

She added in the Tuesday, May 26 report, “What’s very worrying is the young people walking from house to house begging for food. They are aware of all the rules of COVID-19 but have no choice but to go out and beg. Bear in mind, they don’t wear masks while in the streets.”

To mitigate the challenges, Salesian missionaries, staff and volunteers have been making masks and delivering food to more than 400 poor families in the Gong Gong area of the North Cape in South Africa.

The missionary congregation in Ennerdale, a suburb of Johannesburg, has also obtained permits to distribute food to vulnerable households that have been worst hit by the pandemic. To do this, the volunteers said they were relying on food donations from well-wishers.

Information that is provided on the Salesian Missions website also indicates that members of SDB have since 1910 helped homeless, unemployed and impoverished youth in Cape Town, the second-most populous city and legislative capital of South Africa.

Through programs at the Salesian Institute Youth Projects, SDB missionaries provide shelter, education and workforce development services, meeting the basic needs of the youth they serve while helping them break the cycle of poverty.

The Salesian Institute Youth Projects consist of five main programs: an outreach program, the Center of Hope for homeless youth, a Learn-to-Live education program and two workforce development programs.

The projects are managed by a diverse team, some of whom live on the premises to support youth in the hostel and outreach programs.

The Center of Hope provides a home for abandoned youth as well as technical and vocational classes. It is the only recognized school for street children in the country. Every day before the pandemic, 40 to 90 children and teens attended classes. To meet the lockdown orders, Salesian educational programs are taught online.

Poverty is extensive in South Africa with more than half the population and more than 63 percent of children living below the poverty line, according to UNICEF. A significant percentage of the population struggles to survive on less than US$1 a day.

“The country is plagued by high crime rates and violence against women and girls and has been the hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS crisis in the world. There is an urgent need for education to help prevent the spread of the deadly virus and to help lift youth out of poverty,” reads information provided by missionnewswire.

In another development in the same country, Catholic Church Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) in partnership with United Nations Women in South Africa visited Winterveldt, one of the poverty-stricken rural areas in the Northern part of Pretoria, to donate food to vulnerable women and children in the area.

Some 30 women from Mercy Thusanang Primary Healthcare Centre, which is under the supervision of Mercy Sisters in South Africa benefited from the program in which 160 food parcels were donated.

Coordinating the project, Maria Sikhomba, also one of the founding pioneers of the center, told SACBC leadership that the center was started by nine women in 1987 through the help of the Sisters of Mercy, to help the poor and needy women of Winterveldt.

The center also caters for vulnerable and poor women from Southern Africa and those who have migrated from other countries living in the area. There are seven serving points used to distribute food parcels and other basic needs once in every two months.

“In total they have 750 women they are helping. They only give food parcels only to those who are in real need. Those who qualify and access social grants are removed from the list of beneficiaries immediately,” the leadership of SACBC has reported.

Maria was thankful that not a single person in the areas targeted by the center had contracted COVID-19, attributing the success to rigorous campaigns by nuns at the center to educate the people on safety measures.

Fr. Patrick Rakeketsi, the SACBC Associate Secretary General, who was part of the team that donated the food parcels encouraged those who received the food to go to their respective churches to express their gratitude to God.

The country’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa announced Tuesday, May 26 the reopening of places of worship from June 1 albeit under strict conditions including the wearing of masks and adhering to the approximately two-meter physical distancing rule.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

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