Housing activists are outraged over the City’s activation of a high court order enabling it to start serving eviction notices at various CBD “tent city” sites.
The Western Cape High Court granted the City’s application for eviction notices to be served at various unlawful occupations in the Cape Town CBD, and while this applies only to the CBD for now, the City said it would serve the notices before the next court hearing in April, where they expect to be granted a final eviction order.
In the rain yesterday, City law enforcement officers could be seen carrying out their order on the sliver of municipal-owned land adjacent to the traffic intersection at the Cape of Good Hope Castle in the CBD.
The operation was set to continue last night.
Both the City and the province said they had made repeated offers of social assistance to those unlawfully occupying public spaces in the city, including offers of transitional shelter at NGO-run night shelters and City run safe spaces.
Ndifuna Ukwazi attorney Daniellé Louw said homelessness should not be viewed as a problem with individuals, but as a problem of poverty.
“The attempt to shovel people into shelters is just putting a tiny plaster on a gaping wound that is the housing crisis in Cape Town.”
She said the demand for shelter far outstrips the supply and while they welcomed the City and province investing in further safe spaces, it was unclear where people are expected to stay.
“It is also very likely that without a developmental plan in place, people living on the street will return to the street in due course.”
Louw said, “The City cannot blame its citizens for the failure of its own system. It is the duty of the state to care for all who live in it – and not one it can throw its hands in the air and absolve itself from.”
She said they anticipated that “security forces would be fiercely guarding the streets, particularly in the build up to the Cape Town ePrix this coming weekend.”
The City said the eviction notices would be served at “unlawful occupation hotspots” along Buitengracht Street, FW de Klerk Boulevard, Foregate Square, Taxi Rank and Foreshore, Helen Suzman Boulevard, Strand Street, Foreshore/N1, Virginia Avenue and Mill Street Bridge.
Mayor Geordin Hill Lewis said the City had done its “level best” over the past year to extend every offer of care to the people living in the “tent cities” and to help them get off the streets.
“Where this has been persistently refused, we must now ask the court for the order we are seeking. No person has the right to reserve a public space as exclusively theirs, while indefinitely refusing all offers of shelter and social assistance.”
Hill-Lewis said, “Illegal occupation of the City’s open spaces impact the safety of traffic and pedestrians, as well as local businesses which are critical to growing the economy.”
He said the City approaches the court only in the last instance, in cases where all offers of support are indefinitely refused.
“Accepting social assistance to get off the streets is the best choice for the dignity, health, and well-being of the homeless.
“In Cape Town, we have responded to the national and global challenge of homelessness by expanding our care interventions to help people get off the streets, with R77 million allocated to safe spaces and social programmes this financial year.”
Hill-Lewis said Cape Town was the only metro dedicating a social development budget to this issue.
Premier Alan Winde supported the City’s move and urged the “tent city” dwellers to accept the support services offered by the provincial government to all homeless and vulnerable people in the Western Cape.
Winde said, “With the support available from both the City and the provincial government, it is time for those who are living in public spaces to vacate in favour of assisted shelter and care.”
The premier said the provincial department of social development had allocated R50m towards community nutrition and development centres and community-based organisations.
Also, a top-up allocation of R25m has been made to community-based kitchens and community nutrition and development centres for January to March this year. – Mwangi Githahu, Cape Argus