Former ward councillor Shaun Wilkinson has told residents to stop handing out food to the homeless after he mistakenly blamed the death of a child from diarrhoeal disease on a man searching for food in a bin. Experts say Wilkinson's comments are abhorrent and demonstrate dangerously little knowledge of how disease actually spreads.
Shaun Wilkinson's full apology:
Thank you for reaching out.
According to my knowledge we are currently in a Covid-19 lockdown.
As I understand it, citizens are meant to be exercising social distancing and self-isolation.
The SA government has gazetted that all essential workers and other people that are moving around should have permits.
In the area that I move around in I observe many people, including the homeless guys walking around freely and without masks, gloves or any other form of sanitising.
Last week, a young boy died in the ward where I was elected in 2016 as a City councillor. A resident threw a mini oven in his bin before the City Waste could get there. Later in the same day, a homeless guy took it out of the bin and it sounded like he stored it in the garden opposite and defecated in the same corner. The mother of the child cleaned up after the homeless guy and moved the bin to her garage. The 9-year old rubbed grass off the bin and has since passed away from Shigella. The original owner of the oven does not have Shigella and nor does his fiancé who lives with them.
What I can tell you is that I was devastated by this incident. A total disaster by my understanding and something that could have been prevented. If I'm wrong, then I'm wrong and God will judge me for my reaction.
Here's what I tried to say in my message sent via WhatsApp. The SA government has programmes and departments that deal with this on a daily basis and in the City of Tshwane, there are interventions, where shelters, venues, camps and other actions are being taken on a daily basis, whereby the homeless or other individuals who do not have a permanent place or shelter are being cared for. At these places of hope and care, there are care-givers, nurses, doctors, police, metro police that are looking after 100s and 1 000s of homeless daily, since before the Covid-19 lockdown, during and probably after.
I am not sure which part of my heartfelt plea offended your source/s, but I truly believe that we have to do better. We have to do better as individuals, as a community, as government and the private sector. I have a few ideas which I can share with whoever wants to actually do something about the 1 000s of homeless and poor people that roam these streets every day and not to mention all the rest of society who will be forever affected economically by this Covid-19 virus and the lockdown.
As a final word, I deal with the homeless on a daily basis, and I can tell you if there is something I have done to offend anyone then I apologise profusely, including the homeless, and if the people who contacted you are so upset that my apology is not enough then please could they consider forgiveness. But I ask, who will apologise to the mother who lost her son?
This story was produced by the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism. Subscribe to the newsletter.