Update: The mayor’s comments have been added to this article below.
The ANC caucus in the Western Cape Legislature on Saturday joined the fray and called for the Strandfontein relocation camp for the homeless to be closed with immediate effect and for national government to intervene in the crisis.
ANC legislature leader Cameron Dugmore said they were reacting to news of the alleged gang rape of an 18-year-old at the camp.
“We have been warning for days that unilaterally setting up the camp for people who live on our streets was a recipe for disaster,” Dugmore said.
The official opposition party said its MPL, Gladys Bakubaku-Vos, visited the camp this week and was appalled to find men and women mixed in one tent.
Dugmore blamed Cape Town mayor Dan Plato and DA councillor JP Smith for the crisis after they allegedly “masterminded” the camp.
The camp had been set up on the Strandfontein Sports Ground and at least 2,000 people were envisaged to be accommodated at the site as a way to prevent infections among the homeless who had dwelt in the Cape Town CBD and surroundings.
Cape Town, like Johannesburg and other cities, has been gathering homeless people living in city centres and placing them in temporary shelters to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but the process has been met with resistance in some areas such as Strandfontein.
The ANC complaint followed protests from residents of Strandfontein opposing the establishment of the camp in their backyard.
Led by the Strandfontein Community Policing Forum, the irate residents demanded that the people be removed and taken back to the city centre. They initiated a social media campaign known as #IAmStrandfontein to canvass support to stop the relocation, and the petition would be taken to Plato.
“While we know homeless people will carry the burden of suffering during the crisis, whatever happens at Strandfontein relocation camp will affect the health of all of us. This is a test of our morality as a city – it is clear that everyone will bear the consequences,”said the Strandfontein CPF in statement.
But the City is adamant that all the lockdown regulations have been followed.
While residential organisations appeared to be sympathetic and concerned about the violation of the homeless’ rights, they contradicted themselves as they demanded that the homeless be removed.
“The crisis calls on all of us to nurture a deeper and more profound sense of our shared humanity, to act with overwhelming generosity and to ensure the most vulnerable residents do not suffer harm. Although the City must take measures to contain the virus, we expect politicians and city officials to lead with moral integrity and compassion,” the CPF added.
It said the crisis may limit some freedoms and civil rights, but it required them as residents to reaffirm their commitment to protecting basic human rights and respecting human dignity – without excuses or exceptions.
“We share a history in this city of trauma, of forced removals, of dislocation and displacement. Our Constitution affirms our common desire to heal the past. No matter the emergency, we cannot condone any action by the state which we know will rupture our society once again. This generation has an obligation to pass on a more equal city to our children,” they said.
The residents said they objected to the camp because they had heard that homeless people feared being detained and separated from their relationships and being threatened by law enforcement agencies. Also, homeless organisations were excluded from participating in the process.
Professionals such as doctors, social workers and nurses criticised the camp for being unsafe for the vulnerable and people being at risk of contracting various diseases.
They said the City should open smaller temporary shelters in buildings throughout the city, including public buildings, and should work with NGOs and religious organisations.
“Volunteers across this city are willing to do what is necessary to ensure that any local initiatives are safe, supported and integrated into community networks.
“If the City of Cape Town chooses to continue, then the relocation camp must be given the highest priority and funding to ensure that it stops the virus from spreading, is safe, and respects the human rights and dignity of all people. No homeless person should be forced to enter the relocation camp against their will where alternatives exist.”
In a statement sent to The Citizen on Tuesday, 14 April, Mayor Dan Plato said: “Law enforcement officials from the City of Cape Town responded immediately when an allegation of sexual assault was made over the weekend. We are working with the South African Police Service (SAPS) Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit to investigate the allegation.
“Any accusation of sexual assault is an incredibly sensitive matter and the City is doing everything possible to ensure that it is handled in a manner befitting the situation.
“I find it alarming that some political parties have already seized on the opportunity to turn this into a political matter. No facts have been determined yet, so it is entirely inappropriate for an opposition political party to state as fact that an 18-year-old was raped.
“At this point, we can provide no details as the matter is under investigation. I have called on the SAPS to conduct and conclude their investigation with urgency so that we can provide the facts to the public of Cape Town in an environment where half-truths and misinformation are being spread like wildfire.
“We would like to reiterate that the site at Strandfontein was set up under the instruction of the national disaster regulations published by the national government. We have explained the reasons for the location of the site, and we have provided an extensive list of the services that have been made available at the site.
“We were further advised by experienced NGO partners who care for the homeless community that housing people in social groups would avoid unnecessary tensions.
“Despite claims to the contrary, no person is kept on-site against their will, as has been proven by the relocation of a group back to Somerset West last week.
“The City is going to great lengths to ensure the wellbeing of those on-site, in accordance with the regulations of the disaster declaration.
“We are working hard to address any of the shortcomings that have been identified. Municipalities across the country have had to act with little preparation time and we are doing the best we can to provide these services under a very challenging time.
“One of the benefits of providing the temporary shelter is that hundreds of people have been screened for Covid-19 and tuberculosis, and those requiring medical treatment have been seen to as a result. This might likely not have happened if they had remained on the street.
“The ongoing political point-scoring in a time of one of the greatest health crises to face our country, and the globe, is shameful.
“The malicious misinformation that is being spread is a disservice to the many organisations who have pulled together, with very little lead time, to provide this service. We appeal to all organisations to respect the privacy of the individual who has reported this alleged rape so that the police processes may be allowed to be concluded as quickly as possible,” concluded the mayor.