The Denis Hurley Centre, named after the former archbishop of Durban, was opened in 2015 as a place of “care, education, and community” in response to the 2008 afrophobic violence in Durban. Its opening was inspired by the actions of the Emmanuel Cathedral and the Juma Masjid mosque during this time. Refugees were sheltered in, and supported by, both places of worship, which exist beside one another. The Denis Hurley Centre, which was built between the cathedral and mosque, has dedicated itself to supporting Durban’s most vulnerable people, especially those without homes. This includes free feeding programmes, educational workshops, assisting refugees with their documents and helping them to integrate into South African society. A free clinic and many other events and services are conducted in the name of “community serving community”.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic affects all sectors of society unequally, and homeless people are amongst the hardest hit. People without homes, access to sanitation, shelter, food, or adequate healthcare, are exposed to situations in which social distancing does not happen and there are limited resources to combat the spread of the virus.
Durban has provided a wealth of stories of faith-based groups extending their help – often in collaboration – to the city’s most vulnerable people, and saving lives. Volunteers of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu faith or religious identification have come together to provide meals, spiritual and emotional support, volunteer labour and, in some cases, shelter. This level of inter-faith cooperation, tolerance, and love during the pandemic characterises Durban’s (and South Africa’s in general) uniquely high levels of peace and cooperation between people of different religions.
By April 2020, the Denis Hurley Centre had already received around R1.6 million, mostly from small businesses and ‘ordinary Durbanites’. It then distributed this money to various organisations such as the SANPUD (SA Network of People who Use Drugs) to help homeless people with drug withdrawals under lockdown, the RAUF (Refocus and Upliftment Foundation), Silethokuhle Organisation, We Are Durban, and others. One of the Centres projects, DHC Lit, which focuses on making books accessible to homeless people and others who need it, has also organised to provide books to the temporary homeless shelters to alleviate boredom and keep spirits high.
Archbishop Denis Hurley was a prominent anti-apartheid activist and human rights advocate, in much the same vein as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and set a precedent for care in response to the humanitarian crises that defined recent South African history. But his humanism – and that which is practiced by the Denis Hurley Centre – is also representative of the way in which all faith-based and religious organisations are operating in during the coronavirus pandemic. After President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of a national lockdown the eThekwini Municipality has worked together with faith-based organisations and NGOs to coordinate a response to the pandemic through a network of shelters. In part, these shelters were provided by religious and faith-based organisations, and during alert levels 4 and 5 of the lockdown, connected 11 locations and sheltered around 1,700 homeless people.
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