Cape Town, South Africa

Ubuntu: I am because we are

Major winter storms have led to flooding and power outages across Cape Town. The heavy rainfall creates hazardous situations for Cape Town’s unsheltered community, who risk being caught by flash floods. These extreme weather conditions pose a great danger to Cape Town’s vulnerable unsheltered.

Photography: Phinius Sebatsane
08-06-2021
Est. 2 minutes

Michael was wet when we found him.

Thanks to the storms, his blankets and clothes all got drenched on the side of the road. He moved under a roof next to the furniture store to find shelter from the rain and keep himself warm. 

Major winter storms have led to flooding and power outages across Cape Town. The heavy rainfall creates hazardous situations for Cape Town’s unsheltered community, who risk being caught by flash floods. These extreme weather conditions pose a great danger to Cape Town’s vulnerable unsheltered. 

When we gave Michael the Shelterbag, he was very grateful. With a gentle smile on his face, he said in his mother tongue, “ekkosi kakhulu buti” meaning thank you. 


Michael currently stays in Muizenberg and goes to a U-turn service center for a meal every day. According to the expert evidence of U-turn, a faith-based non-profit organization, there are approximately 14.357 people living on the streets of Cape Town, but only 2.473 beds in the City’s shelters.

In other words, there are five times more people struggling with homelessness than there are shelter beds available.


Michael moved from Transkie to Muizenberg for work as a builder. A bad car accident caused him to lose one of his legs. He is shy and doesn’t talk much. One day, a good Samaritan saw Michael on a wheelchair without tires and mobilized the community in Muizenberg to get him some new wheels. He felt the spirit of Ubuntu. He felt seen and loved by the community. 

He told us “umntu ngumntu ngabantu”, meaning, “I am because we are”. It comes from the word Ubuntu (humanity), which is a word that is used in a lot of african communities for sharing and togetherness. 

Michael can’t remember how long he has been on the street and where his family is, yet he feels like he is not alone in his struggle. 

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About this project

For this ongoing project, we engage with unhoused communities in various cities. The intimate documentary reflects the unraveling of society and exposes the equal measures of strength and vulnerability of each of its characters.

By capturing these raw moments in a new light, we challenge the mainstream representation of a growing, forgotten group. It reminds us that people who experience homelessness should neither be labeled nor disregarded. Everyone has a story to tell.