• This Detailed Life

The homeless in Cape Town during the pandemic by Melani Joubert

We received so many amazing article ideas for our first edition of This Detailed Life magazine (Spring/Summer 2020), we wish we could have included more! Given the demand, we already know our next issue is going to be bigger with longer articles across a variety of genres but we're always looking for ways to improve. So if you'd like to share your feedback on what you'd like to see more of we'd love to hear from you.


In the meantime, we decided to post some of the articles we weren't able to squeeze into the magazine here on our blog - many are just too important to keep to ourselves! First up is a project documenting the homeless in Cape Town during the pandemic, by Melani Joubert:



In March 2020 South Africa imposed some of the strictest lockdown regulations in the world. Under Level 5 no-one was allowed outside, meaning stepping out for fresh air, no exercise or even taking your dog for a walk (the only exceptions being for medical emergencies or food supplies). Being able to go outside whenever we wanted for a walk was one of those things we all took for granted until that point. When the lockdown level dropped to Level 4, exercise was permitted between 6am-9am every morning. As we all adapted to life during the pandemic, I wanted to capture people being able to move more freely whilst going about their (new) daily routine for the first time since lockdown began. This included people going for their morning jogs, walking their dogs, picking up a coffee for the first time, but also just being able to take in the surroundings and enjoy being outside.  I decided to document my daily walks and shared photos of each day on my Instagram account  under the hashtag #whatmelsaw. Many people have recorded their experience of lockdown, however for me what quickly became obvious on my walks were the large numbers of homeless people in my neighbourhood. While most people were enjoying their new 'freedom', others had never had the chance to self-isolate or get away from the outside world and the new danger it held. It's estimated there are about 200,000 homeless people in South Africa*. I kept wondering, how do you self-isolate and protect yourself if you are homeless? 



The news reported that the homeless were being taken off the streets and housed in shelters, however some shelters were merely tents put up under bridges and flyovers; they were in close proximity to each other with limited or no access to water and sanitation. As lockdown continued and restrictions lifted, the homeless began returning to the streets again, with just the clothes on their back and a few worldly belongings. It saddened me to realise that the streets seemed a safer haven than the shelters.




Throughout the City of Cape Town, both before and during the pandemic, seeing people begging at traffic lights for food, spare change or clothing is virtually guaranteed at every intersection. The pandemic has made these desperate people’s plight even harder. Wherever you walk you will see heaps of blankets or ‘bergies’ (Afrikaans for little mountains) and cardboard box makeshift shelters.




People have been writing about how their perspective on things has changed during the pandemic; how hard it has been to stay at home, that their freedom has been taken away, about the issues of working and living at home simultaneously.  Every time I photograph someone homeless, I realise how grateful I am to have a home and food to eat. I start thinking of all the everyday things we take for granted, like simply being able to stay home and be safe, that is not possible for many people here. These photos are of just a few of the many thousands without a home, but hopefully they raise awareness of the reality of life for those living in a parallel with us, which many of us are removed from and do not see everyday.



*Source: The United Nations


You can find Mel via:

Instagram: @melanijoubert

Website: www.meljoubert.co.uk

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