Closure of Strandfontein Emergency Shelter a non-debate – Mayor Plato to SAHRC


The closure of the Strandfontein Temporary Emergency Shelter is a non-debate, and the decommissioning process will proceed as originally planned by the City of Cape Town, ‘notwithstanding any false victories that narrow interest groups are jostling to manufacture’. Read more below.

This was the message in a letter from Mayor Dan Plato to the Western Cape Human Rights Commissioner (SAHRC), Chris Nissen. The City is currently providing reintegration, reunification, and shelter placement services to every homeless person at the emergency shelter willing to accept this offer.

In the letter issued on 30 April, the Mayor writes that he is ‘taken aback by the shocking falsehoods contained in a report by some members of the SAHRC Advisory Committee which has been released directly to media’.

‘This report is now being misconstrued as the official comment of the Commission, seemingly with no public correction forthcoming from the SAHRC,’ reads Mayor Plato’s letter. He further confirms that no official SAHRC report has been received by his office to date.


The Mayor goes on to list ‘just some of the known and disproven falsehoods contained in this report’.

The list, as it appears in the letter, includes:

  • the use of rubber bullets among other false claims, whereas this equipment, is not even carried by Law Enforcement
  • claims of the ‘incarceration’ of individuals at the facility, whereas people have not been held against their will as evidenced by fluctuating numbers on-site for various reasons, including personal choice and the reintegration efforts of the City and NGO partners
  • a series of false claims about services at the facility that are, at best, outdated and related to early set-up challenges experienced in all metros, and at worst, outright deliberate distortions of the true standard of care at the facility.
  • misrepresentation of the standard of medical care at the facility, whereas over 800 homeless people have benefited from the diagnosis of chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, that would otherwise have gone unchecked on the streets. These individuals are now enrolled for chronic medication.

The Mayor states that the national State of Disaster ‘places a duty on each one of us to prevent the spread of misinformation in society’.

‘At least two of the authors involved in this so-called “independent” report, have been releasing misinformation for several weeks now, namely Dr Gilles van Cutsem of Doctors without Borders (MSF) and Observatory resident Tauriq Jenkins,’ writes Plato.

‘Mr Jenkins’s individual report – previously released to media – is completely outdated, inaccurate and obviously agenda-driven. Dr van Cutsem, in turn, has previously falsely claimed in a highly unusual MSF press release that, inter alia, COVID-19 and TB screening and isolation is erratic at the emergency shelter.’

The Mayor further points out that ‘both Dr van Cutsem and Mr Jenkins are assisting a potential court application by Ndifuna Ukwazi to have the emergency shelter closed’.

‘There could not be a bigger strawman argument to stage a destructive sideshow around. The closure of the facility is a total non-debate. The City has been clear from the outset that it is a temporary emergency shelter,’ writes the Mayor. The Mayor goes on to say that ‘it is disconcerting that MSF have resorted to distorted criticism of the City rather than volunteering professional services to assist with the care of the homeless’.

Citing President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent call for ‘national unity and solidarity in combatting the spread of the pandemic in our country’, the Mayor appeals to Mr Nissen to ‘not allow political opportunism to derail the mammoth effort we have mounted to care for the homeless’.

The Mayor further indicated that the Department of Defence had commended the City’s efforts at the emergency shelter following oversight work on 18 April.

‘Together with the existing shelter network, Cape Town has achieved the country’s highest service reach to the homeless under lockdown. This is true for both per capita service reach, and the actual number of homeless beneficiaries. Cape Town is sheltering double the number of homeless persons compared to Gauteng, according to the National Department of Social Development’s 23 April report to Parliament,’ writes the Mayor.

He adds that: ‘Cape Town’s visible services to the homeless has led to greater scrutiny on us, and unprecedented levels of attacks from certain political and related groups. Perhaps it is a case of “out of sight, out of mind” elsewhere in the country, where there is far lower reach into the homeless community.’

The City of Cape Town has been offering comprehensive services to the homeless at the Strandfontein facility, including:

  • Accommodation in weather-proof tents allowing for shelter from the elements, with blankets and mattresses for each person. There are currently around 1200 persons on site who are accommodated in 24 tents, each of them run by an expert NGO overseeing the well-being of the occupants.
  • Separate sleeping facilities for women are readily available as a standing offer. Families have been placed in appropriate facilities, and there are currently no children on-site.
  • Comprehensive screening, testing and isolation facilities for COVID-19 and TB. Screening for all homeless persons has been conducted prior to admission at the facility.
  • An on-site medical facility staffed by at least 15 nurses, doctors, pharmacists and volunteers. Social workers assess mental and substance abuse concerns. Addicts have access to psychosocial support and referral pathways
  • A Daily Clinic service offering general health checks, and access to medication for pain relief, blood pressure, and anti-depressants. 
  • Three wholesome meals served daily, Ablution, laundry and hot shower facilities
  • 24-hour Safety and Security services on-site including over 100 law enforcement and private security officials

‘My request is that we now redouble our efforts to ensure collegiality and solidarity while the City conducts the decommissioning process of the emergency shelter at Strandfontein,’ concludes the Mayor.

Issued by: Media Office, City of Cape Town