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Mayor highlights plight of the homeless in CEO SleepOut


Johannesburg Executive Mayor Cllr Parks Tau on Thursday July 28 braved the biting wintry cold and spent the night under the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Braamfontein to highlight the plight of the homeless and raise funds for the poor.

Johannesburg’s first citizen was one of scores of politicians, corporate executives and celebrities who spent Thursday night under the stars during the second edition of the 702-SunInternational CEO SleepOut initiative to put the challenges faced by the homeless on the radar screen and raise funds for ASHA Trust, which provides early childhood development support programmes for under-skilled practitioners and owners of home-based crèches in disadvantaged communities.

The City of Johannesburg donated R300 000 to the trust and the organisers hoped to raise at least R40-million from the initiative.

Speaking at the start of the CEO SleepOut, Mayor Tau said homelessness was an issue that touched him deeply.

“Two weeks ago I was at Wits University, where it was brought to my attention that there were homeless students for whom sleeping on the street is a reality every night. These students rely on the Students’ Representative Council’s feeding scheme for food and when night comes they make their way to the cold streets of Joburg,” the Mayor said.

He said that was why he saw it fit that the City of Johannesburg must hightlight the issue of destitute students.

Mayor Tau said the CEO SleepOut initiative was a great platform to mobilise partners to assist destitute students.

“In order to create and build a winning city we must focus on the plight of our students because they are the future of Johannesburg,” said Mayor Tau.

City Manager Trevor Fowler said he was excited to be part of the CEO SleepOut for the first time.

“It’s good to be reminded how other people live. This initiative aims to restore the dignity of homeless people,” said Fowler.

He said the City wanted to ensure that the lives of the homeless changed.

“The CEO SleepOut is ubuntu in action. Everyone who is here cares. They have empathy for those who are less fortunate than themselves,” said Fowler.

The City Manager said ASHA Trust was chosen on the basis of giving young people a chance in life.

“This is a great opportunity for the youth to engage with the leaders and for us to hear about the problems they are faced with. We want CEOs to understand that there’s still deep poverty in the city and the need for us to work together in alleviating that poverty," said Fowler.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura said people were criticising the event from their warm and comfortable beds, while those who were passionate about change were raising funds for charity.

“All of you who are here today are leaders for change and it’s resonating that this year’s event is at the iconic Mandela Bridge during Mandela Month. [The late former president] is looking down on us with pride because he was passionate about change and compassion,” said Premier Makhura.

Johannesburg Junior Mayor Teddy Mathekga said it was a great opportunity for him to be part of the event.

“This is a platform to discuss challenges the youth in the city are faced with and come up with solutions,” said Mathekga.

Princess of Africa Yvonne Chaka Chaka was one of the celebrities who participated.

“Giving back is not always about money; it’s also about giving your time and sharing the little that you have with others,” she said.

CEO SleepOut founder Bernard Fehon from Australia said when he came up with the idea 10 years ago he initially thought it was a silly concept.

“I didn’t want to invite CEOs to another dinner party but wanted to take them out of their comfort zones and have a conversation about poverty and the impact it has on cities," said Fehon.

He said he was delighted when South Africa adopted the initiative.

“Last year R26-million was raised for the Girls and Boys Town. This year we have upped the stakes to raise R40-million,” said Fehon.

The participants also donated clothes to the homeless.