Gauteng government abandons hundreds of homeless people in Tshwane shelters

Organisation that provided food and social services owed R2.9-million

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Residents of a dilapidated shelter on Struben Street, Pretoria, are no longer receiving meals, as the social development department has not paid the organisation which provided them. Photos: Masego Mafata

  • Hundreds of residents at a derelict municipal homeless shelter in Tshwane are no longer getting meals or social services, after the Gauteng Department of Social Development abruptly stopped paying Kitso Lesedi, which was providing the services.
  • The department’s former MEC Mbali Hlophe has accused Kitso Lesedi Community Development of stealing money and failing in its duties, but provided no evidence.
  • The Pretoria High Court has ordered the department to pay R2.9-million due to the organisation, but no payment has yet been made.

In 2021, non-profit organisation Kitso Lesedi Community Development signed a contract with the Gauteng Department of Social Development to provide food and social work services at two derelict homeless shelters in Pretoria.

Two years after signing the contract, funding was abruptly withheld in October 2023. MEC Mbali Hlophe accused Kitso Lesedi of subjecting the shelter residents to inhumane conditions but did not provide evidence.

“We will not tolerate corruption and those who steal in the name of the poor,” Hlophe told The Star in November.

Kitso Lesedi says it was only contracted to provide meals and social services. The maintenance of the building was the responsibility of the City of Tshwane, which owns the building.

Seven months later, the shelter residents are not getting meals or access to social workers. Kitso Lesedi is still owed R2.9-million, despite a court order. The department lodged an application for leave to appeal the court order, but this was dismissed with costs on 7 June.

Kitso Lesedi’s CEO Maki Tselapedi told GroundUp that when she was approached in 2021 by the department’s Tshwane regional office to provide meals and social services at the “shelters” on Struben Street and Madiba Street, she was hesitant. The buildings had fallen into disrepair. With close to 500 residents, there was insufficient waste disposal, cleaning, water or electricity supply.

When GroundUp visited we found public areas littered with trash, portable toilets broken and vandalised, and ceilings are caving in.

Assured that the contract was only to provide prepared meals and social services, and that the City was responsible for the building and welfare of the residents, Kitso Lesedi accepted the contract.

The Gauteng Department of Social Development paid Kitso Lesedi about R11.9-million a year to provide social work services and feed 282 residents at the shelter in Struben Street and 62 residents at a shelter in Madiba Street, three meals a day, seven days a week.

The budget made provision for meals at R45 per day per beneficiary (three meals a day), social worker and other staff salaries, and operational costs. The funding amount has stayed the same year-on-year since 2021.

The department now claims that operational costs such as gas, electricity, cleaning and security were for the upkeep of the shelters, but Tselapedi says these were to cover the operating costs of the industrial kitchen from which the organisation prepared more than 1,000 meals a day. Cleaners were paid to keep the kitchens clean, and security guards were employed to escort Kitso Lesedi’s staff when visiting the shelters at meal times and for social work sessions, Tselapedi says.

From the outset, due to overcrowding at the shelters, the number of people lining up for food was often more than had been budgeted for. Tselapedi says they did their best to feed everyone.

Uncollected is refuse strewn in the yard of the Struben Street shelter.

Tselapedi says Kitso Lesedi provided uninterrupted services for more than two years, developed a rapport with the residents, and made submissions to the City about the living conditions in the buildings.

But in October 2023, the head of the Gauteng social development department, Matilda Gasela made an unannounced visit to the Struben Street shelter. She publicly expressed her disdain that Kitso Lesedi had been paid millions and yet the building was in such a state.

Her visit spread rumours among the residents that Kitso Lesedi has been pocketing R11-million a year, Tselapedi said.

After the visit, the department did not pay the third-quarter subsidy of R2.9-million.

Kitso Lesedi then received an unannounced visit from FSG Africa, a forensic auditing firm appointed by the department to investigate non-profit organisations (NPOs).

Tselapedi says her queries to the department and the MEC went unanswered. By the end of October, Kitso Lesedi’s funding had run dry and the organisation had to suspend its services.

Kitso Lesedi turned to Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), who sent a letter of demand on 2 November, threatening court action should the department fail to pay.

On the same day, Kitso Lesedi received a letter from the department, informing them that funding would be withdrawn until the conditions at the Struben Street shelter improved.

In the following days, the department and SAPS raided the Struben Street building. Hlophe announced on the ANC’s Facebook page that the raid had been conducted as part of the department’s investigation into corruption in the non-profit sector. A front-page article in The Star on 6 November quotes her saying that Kitso Lesedi was responsible for the conditions in the building.

“It is a human tragedy that our vulnerable who look to the department for help and care are subjected to such conditions by the NPO in question,” Hlophe said.

“Our premier has been unambiguous that we will not tolerate corruption and those who steal in the name of the poor. Accordingly, we will leave no stone unturned, and the department has immediately stopped any further funding this NPO was to receive.”

But in a presentation by the City to the Gauteng provincial legislature’s portfolio committee on social development, the municipality confirmed that it was responsible for the conditions in the building, and reiterated that the funds transferred to Kitso Lesedi by the department were only for food and social work, not for maintenance.

Hlophe’s spokesperson Themba Gadebe told GroundUp that the service-level agreement with the organisation required the premises to be “reliably maintained and kept in a good, safe and usable order”.

This is a standard clause that appears in most agreements the department signs with organisations.

Tselapedi said this was understood to refer only to the industrial kitchen in which the meals were prepared.

The service-level agreement, which GroundUp has seen, does not clearly state that Kitso Lesedi was required to provide cleaning and security for the shelters.

Kitso Lesedi went to court. On 20 December 2023, the Pretoria High Court found that the department had breached the service-level agreement and ordered the department to pay the R2.9-million.

The department decided to appeal against the decision, arguing that Kitso Lesedi was under investigation for “misusing funds allocated to it to feed beneficiaries”. On 7 June, Judge Johanna Moeder Leso dismissed the application for leave to appeal with costs.

To date, no payment has been made.

Two weeks later, Kitso Lesedi was told it was under investigation and its application for funding for the 2024/25 financial year was declined.

But when the organisation received a summary of the findings of the investigation, there was no mention of the Struben Street shelter.

Instead, the findings were on other issues which the organisation contests: that a vehicle was not branded, but this was due to the department’s own delays; that audited 2020/21 financial statements were not provided, yet the department accepted the annual financial statements at the time; and that the organisation did not meet performance targets, but this was when funding was withheld.

The Gauteng Department of Social Development did not respond to our detailed questions.

Residents abandoned

Gadebe said the Struben Street shelter is “uninhabitable as it does not comply with the Building Regulation Act and it does not meet minimum requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act”.

Meanwhile, over 600 people at the shelter, some of whom have been there for many years, are abandoned, receiving no meals or social services. There is no electricity and the water supply is intermittent. Refuse is seldom collected. A huge pile of refuse in the yard attracts flies. Children play nearby. The roof and walls have holes and people have set up makeshift structures to shield themselves from the weather.

“This is no place to live. It’s filthy and it’s dangerous for us and our children,” said a 44-year-old man who lives with his partner and child at the shelter. “The government has been promising to fix this place for us. They’ve been promising to find us better accommodation, but none of that has happened.”

“We used to get three meals a day but that stopped last year … Now we depend on the money we get from piece jobs to buy food. But times are tough, there are no jobs out there, so it’s a real struggle,” he said.

TOPICS:  Housing Social Development mismanagement

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

I believe that the route taken by our government to this issue is very much irrational and inhumane, considering the fact that these are the most destitute people in our community.

The state had the option of appointing its own Auditors immediately when they discovered these concerns and then issue the NPO with a ninety-day notice of demand to have them corrected, failing which funding would be withdrawn. I would have expected the state to continue with full funding during this process to ensure that the people who depend entirely on these services don't endure more suffering than they already have.

We must not forget that the closing of this centre would release a huge group of potential criminals to our streets as they make every attempt to survive. The Department could have channelled the resources wasted on litigation to resolve these challenges cheaper and quicker, and I hope that this NPO eventually continues its project.

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