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South Africa and Homelessness

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South Africa South Africa, a country on the southern tip of Africa, has an area of 471,442sq mi and a population of 44,188,000. It is predominately a black ethnicity with 76% of the population. Although South Africa is Africa's most developed country, most of the black people - rural and urban - are poor, with low standards of living. South Africa has vital natural resources such as diamonds and gold and is rich in other resources such as coal, chromite, copper, iron ore, manga- nese, platinum, phosphate rock, silver, uranium and vanadium (South Africa, 2008). It is obvious that South Africa can sustain their economy through these resources. Through the centuries South Africa has faced difficult time since the Dutch came in 1600’s, in 1700 they started importing slaves establishing the dominance of white over non- whites in the region. The non-whites faced discrimination for years under apartheid and political corruption ran by the whites. Today things look better for the people of South Africa, but they still have many obstacles to overcome. Although South Africa has overcome many travesties throughout the years, their reasonably new democracy faces more with complex political parties, recent struggles with homelessness, and what is being done about this situation. Firstly, apartheid is an “Afrikaans word literally meaning apartness,” refers to the policy of racial segregation and its concomitant economic and political discrimination that was adopted by the South African government for a half century. Coined in the late 1930s by the South African Bureau for Racial Affairs (SABRA), apartheid reflected the social, yet non-legal, practices of South Africans. In the 1940s, the Afrikaner National Party used it as their political slogan. When they won the election in 1948, apartheid was written into law” (Apartheid, 2001). It was a bitter century for the South Africans especially the non-whites. Even though over 70% of the population was black they were limited to very little land, equal opportunity rights, and discriminated against in every way possible. In the 1960’s, an uprising began among the black people against the law of apartheid exhibiting courage through demonstration, protest, and strikes. Many ended in massacre of the people and plenty went to jail for their fight against apartheid. During the 1980’s their struggle was beginning to pay off and laws were being made, But it wasn’t until 1990 that apartheid was actually abolished and some prisoners were released (Apartheid, 2001). It had been a long, bloody fight for the people of South Africa, but the outlook was looking promising when Nelson Mandela became the first black president South Africa had ever seen. In 2009 South Africans voted in the fourth general election of the countries democratic era. The same political party that Nelson Mandela was in the African National Congress (ANC) was returned to power regardless of a new political party called the Congress of the People (COPE) and the returning party of the Democratic Alliance (DA) (Vincent, 2007). South Africa, after becoming a democratic country followed the lead of America and other countries by placing a written law, the constitution. A constitution, after all, is a non-majoritarian mechanism that places out of the reach of majorities certain fundamental rights. Constitutional democracy places emphasis on the need for checks and balances in the democratic system for counterweights to power, even the power of the people (Vincent, 2007). However South African’s constitution is highly diverse compared to the United States Constitution and has implemented far reaching equality rights, such as, homosexual rights, women’s rights, and the death penalty that has caused a stir in the South African democracy. “The constitution, in other words, places out of the reach of majority preference rights that are often not popular and that a majority, left to its own devices, may not particularly want to go to the wall to defend, particularly in troubled times, when crime is rife, life expectancy is falling and the gulf separating rich and poor is growing” (Vincent, 2007, pg. 5). The struggle to find peace and unity in South Africa is a continuous battle that will take time especially after the centuries of mistrust, abuse, and discrimination. The people of South Africa want to hang on to their values, beliefs, and customs, but at what price will these come and will they ever find a happy medium to unify this country that has been at war for years? Although homelessness is an epidemic in South Africa, it is far from new. One could suggest that homelessness was a way of live for the South Africans before technology and globalization entered into the non-developed country. Centuries before many South Africans were hunter and gatherers, nomadic indigenous populations that survived off the land. They were also farmers planting seeds during the proper season then moving when the season was over. They built shelter out of the surrounding supplies the land provided. They usually traveled in tribes where each member held some importance. The men would hunt and build shelter, and the women would gather and plant (Marks, 1980). It would seem that before technology and massive expansion of cities, homelessness was never a problem because it was a way of life. Is global expansion and technology the cause of homelessness? What causes homelessness? Studies have shown that the lack of affordable shelter is one variable. The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) has conducted studies, but it is difficult to know the actual amount of homeless people that actual exist. Most studies are an approximate number around the metropolis. According to the HSRC there is an estimated 200,000 homeless people in South Africa and an expected more in rural areas (Cross & Seager, 2010). Is homelessness caused by the lack of shelter, the lack of employment, or a combination of both? What are other factors? Social alienation is often cited as defining characteristics of street homelessness, and the youth of South Africa displays social anger and the refusal to participate on society’s terms, which leads to precarious lifestyles and unemployment, which also tends to lead to homelessness (Cross & Seager, 2010). It seems as if homelessness is a recurring state of mind for the youth of South Africa, but there are many reasons according to the HSRC of why this happens. In a study that questioned 1775 people (multiple responses to more than one) 53% stated that unemployment was the main reason for leaving original home, 53% stated family factors such as deaths, disputes, marriage, divorce, family influences, and other changes in family situations. Only 17% were seeking a better life and independence. Another 10% had a lack of housing, and 9% due to abuse and mistreatment (Cross & Seager, 2010). In other studies the HSRC did was that in most metropolitan areas the homelessness was considerably high due to people traveling to find work in the city. Most interviewed said they had a home away from the city, but couldn’t afford the commute or to get back home until work was found (Du Toit, 2010). Since 1994 the South African government has been trying to help those in need of shelter. The government agencies most concerned with homelessness have been the national Department of Housing (now Department of Human Settlements) and Department of Housing Social Development, which have worked to address shelter and poverty, respectively (Cross, 2010). However, most of the government spending is associated with the building and shelters used to facilitate the homeless people. There just doesn’t seem to be enough resources to help the homeless. Some would argue that even though the shelters are an important aspect to rehabilitating the homeless, there are other areas that can be explored. For instance, in metropolitan areas where the homeless are more prominent due to migrating to find work have more half way houses to shelter those less fortunate, but while they are looking for work, give them a sense of responsibility by putting them to work within the shelter. In order to spend the night, shower, and be fed one must do nightly chores and take classes on how to give a proper interview and self-help. It is stated that there are many reasons why a person becomes homeless. Du Toit states that most believe homelessness is a social development problem that should be addressed by designing programs to social empowers the people to find employment and housing and to also help with any other dependency problems, such as alcohol, drugs, or the effects of abuse (Du Toit, 2010). Because homelessness is clearly more than about a roof, housing can only be one solution. Could social exclusion and mental health be a factor in homelessness? It is estimated that 50-60 % experience mental health problems and of those 88% experience their mental health problems prior to becoming homeless (Stickley, Hitchcock, & Bertram, 2005). As already discussed, many homeless people experience mental health problems. “The actual effect of the expenence of being homeless compounds the experience of psychosis. Given the stress of homelessness: physical discomfort, effects of exposure to the cold, social isolation, loss of role, income, family, poor access to health services, victimization, stigmatization, prejudice and oppression and so on, it is understandable that the mental wellbeing of a homeless person is liable to deteriorate or breakdown. The individual may become distrustful of others and enter a role of learned helplessness” (Stickley, Hitchcock, & Bertram, 2005). Most of the world faces a form of mental illness ranging from depression, panic attacks, bipolar, schizophrenia etc… that is usually triggered from some sort of distress. Being in these mental states one finds it hard to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. The end result being loss of employment and eventually homelessness if not treated. The question that arises from the topic of homelessness is not how or why, but more of how to help. The government should do their part in funding shelters to keep the people in the cities safe, but shelter funding is not the only thing the people of South Africa need. They also need capable mental health physicians that can earn the trust of the homeless population and treat according to what their symptoms are. Since homeless people tend to have a serious distrust of most, it is a long drawn out process to gain trust. It has to be an everyday occurrence and patience must be required. Homelessness is like a revolving door. For every person who was homeless yesterday and finds affordable living and a job, the next day another person becomes homeless. The programs that are being implemented around the world to help the homeless population help those who are already homeless, but not those who might become homeless tomorrow. Ignoring the prevention of one becoming homeless is not a solution and it does little to help the poor. Build more housing and subsidize the costs to make it affordable to people with incomes below the poverty level. Help more people afford housing, by providing them with better schools, better training, and better jobs. Prevent the next generation of children from experiencing homelessness by giving them a chance to educate themselves. Provide reasonable health insurance including mental health. Provide a community center where people feel save to come and ask for help. Homelessness is a process rather than a single event (Stickley, Hitchcock, & Bertram, 2005). Communities throughout the country that have committed such resources have developed a variety of effective programs to prevent homelessness, including programs that negotiate with landlords and help with bad credit histories. Housing trust funds, rental assistance programs, and access to funds that can solve a household’s short-term problems, such as paying back rent, security deposits, and other moving expenses. Programs that encourage developers to build or renovate attractive, accessible properties; and help managers ensure good maintenance and repair; and programs that help people develop personal and family financial management skills, establish or reestablish good credit and rental histories, and retain housing. Definition of political culture is ‘a pattern of shared values, moral norms, beliefs, expectations, and attitudes that relate to politics and its social context (Geldenhuys, 2012). The political culture of South Africa regarding their homelessness epidemic is that this country has faced many defining points throughout history and still has serious disagreements on the simplest of things. There is no sense of unity in South Africa, so they do not share values, moral norms, beliefs, expectations, and attitudes. Partially because of the history of apartheid and the lack of respect held for the non-whites still makes it difficult to collectively focus on the issues of the country including their government and homelessness. In conclusion, regardless of the past of South Africa or any country for that matter, today things do look a little brighter. No country lives in harmonious bliss and all face concerns, disputes, and questions of how their own political systems are ran. Nevertheless, a country that has a method to create a union or a community to help their people survive the complications of everyday life will continue to grow, and South Africa will reinvent themselves given time and opportunity. South Africa is a new democracy trying to work out the faults from the past, with a little patience and a lot of forgiveness they can unite to make them a nation on the rise. Although South Africa has overcome many travesties throughout the years, their reasonably new democracy faces more with complex political parties, recent struggles with homelessness, and what is being done about this situation.


Apartheid. (2001). In World of Sociology, Gale. Retrieved from
Cross, C., & Seager, J. R. (2010). Towards Identifying the Causes of South Africa's Street Homelessness: Some Policy Recommendations. Development Southern Africa, 27(1), 143-158
Du Toit, J. (2010). Local Metropolitan Government Responses to Homelessness in South Africa. Development Southern Africa, 27(1), 111-128. Films Media Group. (2003). South Africa journal: A nation's renewal [H.264]. Available from
Geldenhuys, Deon. (2012). Political Culture in South African Foreign Policy. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Vol. 2 No. 18; October 2012 Department of Politics University of Johannesburg.
Marks, S. (1980). SOUTH AFRICA: 'The myth of the empty land'. History Today, 30(1),
South Africa. (2008). In Philip's Encyclopedia 2008. Retrieved from

Stickley, T., Hitchcock, R., & Bertram, G. (2005). Social inclusion or social control? Homelessness and mental health. Mental Health Practice, 8(9), 26-30.
. Vincent, L. (2011). Seducing the people: Populism and the challenge to democracy in South Africa. Journal Of Contemporary African Studies, 29(1), 1-14. doi:10.1080/02589001.2011.533056

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