South Africa’s inequalities have never been more glaring than now, during the Covid-19 global pandemic. The aggressive measures taken to slow the infection rate have brought South Africa’s economy – already in a frail condition – to a virtual standstill but worse, it has increased food insecurity for those who live in poverty or are unemployed or rely on casual jobs for their livelihood.

To this end, an initiative called Gauteng Together is encouraging community members to set up CANs (community action networks), platforms through which the specific needs of that community are identified, making it easy to initiate action to address them. The operational model is based on the CAN model being used by the Cape Town Together group.

The initiative was launched today, and is being driven by The Angel Network, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and CONECKT. It is supported by a range of organisations – including Corruption Watch – individuals and local community volunteers.

“This initiative does not replace existing work, but complements it, by encouraging residents to link up with structures already established,” states the starter pack. “It gives ordinary people –volunteers –a platform to support or initiate localised work under lockdown conditions.”

Every community member is at risk if there are people nearby at risk. “That is why it is so important to work together and support each other to protect the whole community, especially the most vulnerable.”

Furthermore, community members know best what their needs and strengths are, and by working together and drawing on existing community resources, everyone has a greater chance of staying safe. There is no need to duplicate efforts already in place – “Focus on filling the gaps in your community.”

But help can be extended further afield. “Support other CANs wherever and whenever you can. This can mean financially or through food donations, but more often it means sharing your time, your emotional support, the lessons you have learnt and your informational resources with others.”

For those wondering how they can help, this may be the answer.

Download the starter pack | Download the info pack.

Communities helping each other

The five stated purposes of a CAN are to:

  • Identify the need in communities and distribute essential food and hygiene items to those who are in need within one’s immediate vicinity.
  • Pair up with surrounding communities to support food security or other initiatives.
  • Support mechanisms are in place by immediate community members for those self-isolating.
  • Spread correct information on the pandemic at a localised level.
  • Identify area-based needs and work towards addressing them.

A CAN might be as small as a neighbourhood group, or an area-wide committee. It can be limited to a single street, or cover a suburb. It can serve inter-community interests by pairing up with other CANs.

Its purpose is to ensure identification of the need and distribution of essential food and hygiene items to those who are in need within the immediate vicinity. It also aims to pair up with surrounding communities to support food security or other initiatives, and to assist with establishing support mechanisms for those who are self-isolating.

Importantly, the CAN will also spread accurate Covid-19-related information at a localised level.

A CAN can be formed from scratch, but members are encouraged to join or collaborate with already established local groups.

Play your part

Are you interested in setting up a CAN? Follow these steps to start:

  • Identify a core set of volunteers in your community/your organisation.
  • Designate one volunteer to be the administrator.
  • The administrator must log onto and fill in the details on the online volunteer registration form.
  • The administrator can thereafter expect to be contacted via e-mail with an indication if a CAN already exists within their locality and who to get in touch with if this is the case. If no CAN has already been established in the area, the administrator will be e-mailed with a ‘starter pack’ outlining the next steps to setting up the CAN.
  • For more information, visit the Gauteng Together Facebook page.

It goes without saying that CAN members must follow official guidance and regulations at all times – including those established for the lockdown regulations. Other recommended measures include online meetings, adequate safety equipment, strict self-monitoring of health, and immediate withdrawal if a member feels unwell.

The emphasis is always on decisive action. “Pick one thing that is achievable given the size and strength of your group and GET IT DONE.”