South Africa: City of Cape Town Slammed for Allegedly Issuing Fines to 'Penniless Homeless People'

Hundreds of homeless people have been moved to the City of Cape Town’s temporary site at the Strandfontein Sports Grounds, as part of the response to COVID-19. Upon arrival, people are screened for the novel coronavirus. There are no other health services for the many underlying health issues, including mental health, substance dependency, and chronic illness. There are many people in the camp with chronic illnesses, such as HIV and TB, and there is no identifiable way that people with these conditions can get access to treatment. There is no protective equipment, such as masks, and there is one basin at each marquee for people to wash their hands.

The City of Cape Town is issuing fines to penniless homeless people, according to a GOOD party member of the Western Cape legislature.

GOOD secretary general Brett Herron said on Wednesday that he received reports that homeless people were "being held in lockdown" at the contentious Strandfontein camp and fined - allegations which the City is investigating.

Referring to a fine he had seen, Herron said the person was sanctioned for "threatening behaviour in a public place".

The person faces being hauled before the Mitchells Plain Magistrate's Court on 29 July of R500 is not paid by 15 July.

"The Strandfontein camp has been a chaotic and shambolic attempt at shelter and now it seems that the City has completely lost its mind by issuing finds to the penniless homeless people. A picture is emerging of a government that is completely out of control," Herron said.

"Taking 2 000 people off the street and forcing them to camp in Strandfontein was poor judgement. A proper plan would have anticipated the human dynamics of what was going to happen and would have prepared for this, with professionals available to intervene and to assist human beings to adjust to being effectively imprisoned."

'Reduce the risk'

Executive director for safety and security Richard Bosman said the City "just obtained further particulars" and would look into the allegations before responding.

Meanwhile, mayoral committee member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien defended the City's decision to deny various organisations and the media unconstrained access to the sports complex, saying that while it was a public facility, it was being used as a shelter as part of national efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"The City's service providers, including NGO professionals who care for the homeless as well as medical services and food distribution providers, are currently working at the site and are implementing ways of enhancing social distancing," Badroodien said in a statement.

"It is for this reason that the City is limiting the number of people entering the site. We want to ensure that we reduce the risk of exposure to those living in the safe space."

The South African Human Rights Commission has visited the site several times. The City will continue to allow the organisation's representatives access to conduct oversight visits, according to him.

"For the record, the shelter was set up in terms of the Disaster [Management] Act, on instruction from the national government, to mitigate the risk of street people contracting Covid-19; to ensure that, where cases do occur within this vulnerable group, they are treated timeously; and to provide a means of sustenance to street people whose economic lifeline has been cut by the national lockdown."

About 1 500 people are being housed there.

"To date, 142 persons have left the site - either to be reunited with their families, or of their own volition. This is a clear indication that no person is being held against their will. Leaving the facility does not however exempt any person from penalties they may incur from not adhering to the Disaster regulations."

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