Last week, I spent a sunny afternoon in De Waal Park with members of Souper Troopers, a charity committed to improving the lives of the homeless in Cape Town. We were introduced to Kerry Hoffman, the founder of the organisation, via Sam Grass in the Cape Town office and Kerry then came to see us in the Isle of Man in August. I was really inspired by what she presented to our Isle of Man team and I committed at that time to come and see her work during my trip to South Africa in October.
Kerry started the charity by handing out soup and sandwiches from the boot of her car and then decided to make it a regular occurrence. She has now been doing it for over five years, the organisation has grown immensely in scale and she has helped thousands of people in the Cape Town area. The charity is special in that the people who receive the food and support are also the volunteers.
It’s all about getting involved to help yourself and help others. The people that I met appear to have nothing. They have virtually no possessions, no jobs and no income. Law enforcement often move them on and take away the few possessions they might have. Some of the Troopers have been homeless for a year or two, others for over a decade.
But they do not have nothing, far from it; they realise that they have something. They have their pride, their friendship and the hope that together they can make things better in the future. The city has turned its back on them and the treatment that they receive is inhumane. One girl had an epileptic fit whilst we were there. Her friend gave her a drink and then she had to leave to sleep. They are provided with no medical support, no toilets, no sanitary products, no income and no food.
Despite this, they find ways to earn a few rand here and there. One of the troopers, Karen, was an expert at making jewellery from beads. Karen sells her creations but relies on donations of beads or hunts for them on the floor. Sometimes there is an opportunity to work by cleaning toilets all day. For that they get paid 15 rand, less than a pound for a whole day’s work.
Despite their hardship, they offered me a bottle of their water and one of their chocolate bars when I sat with them. I couldn’t take them but I did have a crisp when they passed the packet around so that I could accept their hospitality. For a group of people who appear powerless, through Kerry’s support, they are not.
They’re suing the city’s law enforcement authorities backed by a local law firm who are taking on the case pro bono. They may not have many possessions but they believe in and fight for their human rights. They are people like you and I who, for whatever reason, have fallen on hard times. I told them that if they win the law suit, word would get out and someone from Hollywood would make a movie about it. They smiled.
Sam Grass has shown a lot of commitment to her charity work including helping Kerry and the Souper Troopers. Her enthusiasm seems to have even rubbed off onto colleagues in the Isle of Man. James Shimmin, who is travelling to SA in the next few weeks, has organised a football tournament for the Troopers to play in.
As a company, we support Souper Troopers in a variety of ways. We donate money every month. We use the points on the company credit cards to buy useful items for them from Pick N Pay. And some of our people get involved in supporting on the ground at the soup and food events. I’d like us to do more and would encourage the team in the SA offices to spend some time working with Sam on one of the events. I’m going to introduce Kerry to the Chairman of another major firm that is based in SA and the IOM to see if they can get involved and support Souper Troopers further.
It was very humbling to meet these people, and I was very inspired by their proactivity, their bias to action over words and their positivity. They told me that rather than focus on what they haven’t got, they start with what they have got. They are very resourceful people. We must do more to help them create more opportunities for themselves.