Homeless people in Tshwane and Johannesburg will not be forced to move into shelters during the 21-day lockdown, according to Gauteng's acting social development MEC Panyaza Lesufi.
Lesufi visited both metros on Thursday evening to observe shelters' readiness to temporarily accommodate homeless people during the lockdown, which is aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
He told News24 that homeless people would be able to decide whether they wanted to stay in shelters.
"Our view is that you don't have to force people; you have to respect their dignity. You might even feel that they are homeless, but they still have rights and still have dignity," Lesufi said.
"So, I said to the team: 'Let's ensure that we have facilities that can be ready to accommodate. But if people come there, they come voluntarily'."
Lesufi added that the police and army should not be used to force homeless people to move into shelters, saying "I really feel that it doesn't belong in a democratic state."
Instead, facilities will be made available for the homeless community during the lockdown and they have a right to decide on using them, Lesufi said.
"Even under lockdown, you still have rights. If they know the facilities are here, they will [come]."
It is estimated there are around 10 000 homeless people in Tshwane and around 15 000 in Johannesburg.
In terms of finding space for the homeless, Lesufi said they asked non-governmental organisations (NGOs) if they would be able to accommodate them.
If the NGOs do not have space to house everyone, then schools will be used as makeshift shelters, Lesufi added.
"We have a lot of schools that are closed, a lot of churches that are closed and a lot of hotels that are closed. But for now, our plans are based on two alternatives - the NGOs and the schools."
While Lesufi maintained that shelter placement would be optional for the homeless, gazetted regulations in terms of the Disaster Management Act make provision for forced relocations during the lockdown.
According to the regulations, for the period of the lockdown, anyone refusing to be evacuated from any place subject to lockdown, may be evacuated by an enforcement officer to a temporary shelter, if such action is necessary for the preservation of life.