South African Embassy in Tokyo serves homeless people on Mandela Day

The team from the Embassy and Tokyo Union Church

Nelson Mandela International Day saw the opportunity for the Embassy to partner with the Tokyo Union Church in providing food to 200 homeless people.

Japan is considered to be a wealthy country with a fairly equal distribution of wealth. Yet, homeless people are commonly found in the parks of large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. In Tokyo alone there are an estimated 5,000 homeless people. Japanese people tend to ignore the homeless and give them space. Many live in makeshift tents by rivers or in parks. Japanese homeless people are remarkably polite and quiet. They do not beg for money or food. The majority are men over the age of 40.

The Embassy obtained donations of canned fruit from companies selling South African products. Embassy staff also donated a variety of canned food, rice and Rooibos tea to the church kitchen. Staff members worked in the kitchen as the first group of homeless people listened to a message of hope in the church, given by a Japanese pastor.

At precisely 14h00, they filed towards the “fellowship hall” where Embassy and church volunteers stood ready to serve large portions of curry and rice and plates of salad.

The homeless filed neatly, bowed in appreciation when handed their plates and ate in silence.

Ambassador Pheko explained the meaning of Mandela Day and gave a brief message of hope, whereafter Embassy staff sang Nkosi Siklel iAfrica to a round of applause.

As the first wave of homeless returned their empty plates to the kitchen, the washing and cleaning operation kicked in at double speed, with Ambassador Pheko manning one of the foam filled sinks. The second and third wave of homeless soon filed in, served in plates still hot from washing. All agreed that the selfless act of serving others that are less fortunate have made a lasting impression on them and that it was a worthy action to honour the legacy of former President Mandela.

Note: No photographs of the homeless were taken in order for them to remain anonymous.


Pictured clockwise from top right: Ambassador Pheko working hard in the kitchen; Ntombi Msibi and Gloria Motsepe rushing to wipe plates for the next serving; Jason Varney, spouse of René, checking the curry; Nosicelo Mbele, Minister-Plenipotentiary, Michael Khanyi and Sibusiso Mpama taking a quick break and René Everson-Varney and Padmany Chetty preparing the salads

South African Embassy in Tokyo, Japan