Maverick Citizen


The Johannesburg Inner City CAN Collective: Dignity through solidarity

The Johannesburg Inner City CAN Collective: Dignity through solidarity
Hillbrow CAN member Thabang Movunelela at the Twilight Centre. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

The impact of Covid-19 and the socio-economic implications of lockdown restrictions have been devastating for communities across South Africa. This is nowhere more evident than in poor, densely-populated areas where people lack basic services to enable them to live with dignity, such as the inner city of Johannesburg.

The Inner City CAN Collective has been established to address the needs of people in the inner city who find themselves in dire circumstances. Falling under the Gauteng Together initiative, operating as a community action network (CAN), our collective is made up of individuals and organisations with prominent influence, infrastructure and networks operating on the ground in Johannesburg’s inner city.

In the wake of Covid-19 and its impact, the collective is working with businesses, residents and NGOs to provide rapid community relief to those in need. We believe in collective action rooted in solidarity and are therefore mobilising support so that no one is left behind during the pandemic and beyond.

Our purpose as a collective is to collaborate, maximise and channel efforts to achieve greater results, and so we’re also forming CANs in the suburbs surrounding the inner city to bring additional support to the many communities requiring assistance in this area of critical need. 

Forming micro CANs

Our work within the inner city includes networking and connecting people with the aim of forming micro CANs, so that communities can leverage their own skills and resources to help themselves. These micro CANs are very granular in scale, funnelling right down to building level.

We’ve registered approximately 15 micro CANs under the Inner City Collective – with more in the pipeline. Our approach to connecting people in the inner city is based on greater inclusion and engagement. By linking up with leaders and emerging community champions in each micro CAN, residents of buildings begin to see themselves as actual stakeholders in addressing needs. Collectively, we are then able to provide assistance to the most vulnerable members of each mini-community through peers in their own communities.

In a short space of time, so much has been achieved by these focussed micro CANs. Some initiatives include the formation of cleaning committees, skills exchange programmes between residents within and across buildings, and the creation of informal soup kitchens and several libraries.

One of our micro CANs is focussed on assisting foreign nationals with their documentation needs, thus improving their chances of building a life in South Africa. The same CAN has been working with young sex workers in their suburb in the hope of giving them greater purpose and value, and to provide them with options that will help to get them off the streets. 

Hillbrow: Yes Thabang CAN

The Hillbrow CAN has taken street children under its wing. Young men like 28-year-old Thabang Movunelela, who assists this CAN, are former street children themselves. Thabang has been living at the Twilight Centre for 10 years and has been helping many of the young men that have been brought to the centre over the years. Since the inception of the Inner City CAN, he has become a vital part of the distribution network. Each week, he helps with making sure that community members get their parcels quickly, waiting patiently in the dignified and sanitised environment of the Twilight Centre.

In an interview with Maverick Citizen editor Mark Heywood, Thabang said:

“At first I thought Covid-19 would be a greatest challenge for street children wh0 beg for R1 outside shops because now there’s less money. But now I’ve seen how Covid-19 is challenging people in the flats. I see people still wearing nice clothes on the outside, but I can’t see in their stomachs. They look nice, but when you hear their story… like today, a woman with a one-year-old child with no food and clothes for the baby. When I see people coming here to cry, it opens my mind; there are people who need help.”

Thabang continued: “I’ve learnt a lot from this food distribution. I feel most sorry for the small children. They don’t understand what’s going on. They are confused. This thing is very hard.”

Several years ago, Thabang formed his own soccer club and took young street children under his wing. Before the lockdown, he taught them soccer at no charge, utilising the Pieter Roos park and other spaces in the city. There are currently 13 young men living at Twilight and Thabang has risen to a leadership role in this little community. This forms part of our drive to create opportunities for meaningful involvement in sport and self-improvement. With this in mind, we are looking at other projects that include boxing, judo and internships in hospitality, once further lockdown restrictions are lifted.

The Inner City CAN collective’s work is characterised by our passion for igniting change and seeking opportunities that this strange and unusual time has brought to light, with the hope of creating a better and more sustainable future. This is what drives us to do more.

Our long-term vision is ambitious and there are some exciting initiatives in the making. One such pioneer project is the rebirthing of the Twilight Children’s Home in Hillbrow which we have plans to revive and repurpose as a Youth Street Outreach programme. The aim is to enable homeless youth (18-25 years) to exit street life by bringing them into our programme and giving them the best chance at life. 

The programme will provide shelter, food, a learning centre, a library, life skills workshops, emotional wellbeing activities and a boxing gym under Luke Lamprecht of Fight with Insight. Twilight Hillbrow will be a pilot project for this concept with a view to launching these community centres in other suburbs within Joburg’s inner city.

The vision is massive, and the opportunities endless. DM/MC

Jean Veitch is the Inner City CAN Admin Leader. To support the Inner City CAN collective, contact [email protected] or donate here. Watch out for the full interview with Thabang Movunelela on life on the street and afterwards.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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