The C19 People’s Coalition, its Anti Repression Working Group, along with accredited monitors of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) respond to the withdrawal of the interdict by the City of Cape Town.
We, human rights monitors, human rights defenders, and respondents in the City of Cape Town’s case against the SAHRC reject the sustained barrage of propaganda directed at us by the City’s legal and media teams. Their attacks on us – always without evidence – amount to defamation of our characters. But the City of Cape Town’s last minute withdrawal of their case on Wednesday is evidence that they really never intended to get to the bottom of the facts of the Strandfontein site.
Waste of money
Our victory on Wednesday has come at a huge cost with millions wasted by the City on a substandard camp for street-based and homeless people and on a frivolous court case.
As residents and taxpayers in Cape Town, we condemn the fruitless and wasteful expenditure of our money for the purposes of stifling freedom of expression and protection of human rights. We are deeply concerned with the attack against a Chapter 9 institution tasked with holding organs of the state, like the City, accountable. The proceedings against human rights monitors is an enormous waste of money that could have been used for important matters like providing Cape Town’s homeless with safe and secure accommodation. Lawyers from The Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the Women’s Legal Centre appearing as Friends of the Court and the defense team from the Legal Resource Centre showed full support of the SAHRC, and it’s monitors, contributors and reports.
The most recent media release from the office of the Executive Mayor reproduces a discordance of facts which have become the hallmark of the City’s public announcements with regards to Strandfontein. As monitors we witnessed, observed, and reported on the range of failures, discrepancies, and human rights abuses at the hands of the City. These reports have been met with denial and aggression and finally a frivolous interdict application against the SAHRC, Commissioner Chris Nissen and it’s accredited monitors. Most concerning is the chilling attempts to silence monitors, and undermine our reports, by attacking our persons instead of dealing directly with the facts as recorded in these very reports. In doing so, the City has attempted to nullify the legitimacy of the SAHRC and its mandate in terms of Section 12 of the SAHRC Act to appoint a Section 11 committee.
Abuse of human rights
The unfounded allegation of ‘political abuse by Chapter 9 institutions’ cannot be used as a smokescreen for the City of Cape Town to hide behind. The purpose of our reports was to alert the City- as well as the public- to what was going on at Strandfontein and suggest ways to fix these human rights abuses. Our reports focused on complaints received repeatedly from occupants of the site and NGOs, as well as easily observed compliance failures. The reports show what was happening, and why we believe it was a violation of local, national and international standards for disaster accommodation, hygiene and infection prevention and control, care of vulnerable groups (such as women, the elderly and mental health service users), mental health and psychosocial support services, and medical care. We compiled strong evidence including observations, interviews and photographs over weeks of visits to the site. Instead of engaging with these reports, the City sought to attack us and SLAPP us with a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. However, on Wednesday, even Judge Desai noted how such tactics and claims of “fake news” are reminiscent of Donald Trump’s approach to anyone who criticises him. Monitors, given access to the site, could have verified the actions the authorities claimed they had taken to remedy the problems reported on in the first Expert Report submitted.
The recent statement issued by the Mayor also typifies the City’s onslaught against journalists and the media. We take note of the threats of criminal charges and legal action laid against the Cape Argus, the Daily Maverick, and other news outlets. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms.These reports directly challenge the assertions made by these authorities.
The City’s withdrawal
The City arrived on Wednesday at Court with the intention of arguing the case but not seeking any substantive relief. The Judge seemed perplexed as to why they had not withdrawn weeks ago, as per the Uniform Rules of Court and tender the costs of the respondents. Upon direction from the Judge to make a decision about how to proceed, the City through their legal representatives, withdrew their application at the eleventh hour. Now, the day after, they are saying that they didn’t, in fact, withdraw. But recordings of the proceedings show that Advocate Williams acting for the City said precisely that: “I am asking the court to allow us to withdraw the application with no order as to costs”.This was then confirmed by Judge Desai.
Why would the City force us into a costly case only to withdraw at the last minute? We realise that this was an attempt by the city to use the courts to disrupt monitoring work and prevent the exposure of important information about the City’s handling of street-based people during Levels 5 and 4 of the lockdown. We stand by our careful monitoring reports that show how the City’s disastrous plan led to human rights abuses in the lead up to people’s removal from the streets, and at the Strandfontein camp itself. The most important questions to ask now are who is behind these actions, who gave the orders to block access to the monitors, and who is responsible for what we have seen and heard at Strandfontein?
The matter, according to the City, is moot; but it is not moot in the living memory of the former occupants abused at the Strandfontein site. What is not moot is how people were forcefully removed against their will or lied to about the conditions at the camp. What is not moot is the disruption to people’s lives and severance from their daily survival strategies and relationships in their neighbourhoods.In our monitor reports, the camp occupants described their imprisonment at the hands of the City and how this stripped them of their right to human dignity and exposed them to Covid-19.
Their indignity is our indignation.
Judge Desai questioned the City’s legal representative in court yesterday about their justification for bringing an urgent case that they would later abandon. Abandoned too are the principles of our social contract that binds us to each other as people. The City’s statement argues that bringing on the interim interdict was necessary. Perhaps it was necessary only for the City to hide, obfuscate, delay, sabotage and attempt to rearrange the truth. We won’t accept a Donald Trump in Cape Town. As human rights defenders and citizens of the country and the world, we will not allow this.
We have seen how the City has deployed Law Enforcement against homeless people across Cape Town. The latest case is the harassment of Singabalapha residents in Observatory. We have witnessed millions spent on temporary structures and a temporary watchtower at the camp while women consistently did not have access to sanitary pads, and furthermore, had to unnecessarily endure a setting that was dangerous to their basic safety. We remember and will not forget how monitors were prohibited from entering the camp while the City erected a stage on a Sunday morning in April for an illegal religious gathering and photo-op during Level 5 Lockdown.
As human rights defenders, we will continue to monitor all levels of government. It was the City of Cape Town that decided that the street based community had to be removed, silenced, and abused. It was the City that took human rights monitors to court to silence us as well.
The City of Cape Town argued that the matter is moot and abandoned the case. We say this case is not moot, it is kept alive by ongoing human rights violations and denial of the right to dignity, freedom of speech, decent shelter, access to healthcare and protection of vulnerable groups, to name a few. Take your boot off our necks.
Issued by the C19 People’s Coalition and its Anti Repression Working Group. Signed by:
Tauriq Jenkins – Aboriginal/Xarra Restorative Justice Forum 0647342569
Catherine Williams – Intnsa South Africa firstname.lastname@example.org
Zelda Holtzman – Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education 0824660007
Jared Sacks – PhD Candidate, Columbia University 0815833228
A previous statement denouncing the City of Cape Town’s court action has been endorsed by 67 civil society and social justice organisations.
C19 People’s Coalition – www.c19peoplescoalition.org.za