Organisations ask court to close Strandfontein homeless camp

The City of Cape Town has relocated homeless people to this temporary homeless shelter at Strandfontein sports field. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

NEWS | By Vincent Cruywagen | 29 April 2020

The main point of contention is the high concentration of vulnerable and immune-compromised persons.

Organisations opposed to a temporary homeless shelter at Strandfontein sports field have sought an order from the Western Cape High Court to declare actions by the City of Cape Town to be in violation of the regulations made in terms of the Disaster Management Amendment Act.

In addition, the urgent application filed by the Strandfontein Social and Economic Development Forum and Strandfontein Ratepayers Association against the City and Mayor Dan Plato, also wants the City and Plato to shut down the camp.

In papers, the parties asked that the City and Plato facilitate the transfer of all homeless people at the temporary shelter to decentralised venues. The papers were filed in the week of 20 April. The city indicated on 28 April that it had received the papers but needed time to peruse the documents.

The litigation process emanates from a decision by the City taken shortly after the lockdown announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa, to relocate 1,600 people to eight marquee tents at the complex.

The lockdown was announced in response to the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic and to contain the spread of the virus.

Strandfontein residents were against the camp and after several attempts at engaging the City, approached the High Court.

Amanda van Willingh, secretary of the Strandfontein Social and Economic Development Forum, states in her founding affidavit that the camp was set up on the Strandfontein sports field on or about 31 March.

“We understand that the city council had to respond to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and had to find accommodation for homeless people in the City, but this cannot be done in violation of the lockdown regulations.”

Plato and the City, she said, should have consulted residents who would have been able to offer input on how to mitigate the risks to neighbouring communities.

“This did not happen. When we inquired with our ward councillor, Elton Jansen, he informed us that he was also not consulted either,” she said in her affidavit.

Van Willingh said the main point of contention remains the high concentration of vulnerable and immune-compromised persons. This could amount to a public health disaster with a potential negative impact not only for the homeless but also residents of Strandfontein and neighbouring Pelican Heights.

She further argued that the City and the mayor’s action is unlawful and failed to appreciate the serious risks created.

Van Willingh highlighted that there had been agreement during discussions with the community that support would have been mobilised to ensure that there was enough food and clothing for those in need.

She added that after March 31 community representatives tried to engage the City and the mayor at the site to raise concerns

On 6 April, a meeting was held between community representatives and City and mayoral officials represented by Brian Ford.

At this meeting, a request was made for an operational plan as well as oversight visits to the complex.

Following their first oversight visit on 9 April, a feedback report “confirmed worst concerns”, as the City had clearly failed to comply with Covid-19 regulations.

Of grave concern was “the total lack of social distancing in the tents”.

Before embarking on the legal route the Strandfontein organisations made proposals and gave options to the City and expected these to be considered.

“But it was evident from their response that the City completely ignored our submissions,” Van Willingh said.

“It is imperative for the court to hear the application, because if we wait for the normal court roll, we will suffer irreparable harm and will not be able to obtain substantial redress in due course,” she said.

Lawyer Vernon Seymour, representing the Strandfontein organisations, also handed in medical evidence from Dr Gilles van Cutsem to bolster the case. Van Cutsem was part of a team that carried out an assessment under the auspices of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) at the sports complex.

Following an attempted oversight visit to the campsite by members of the ANC in the Western Cape and the FF+, which was thwarted by law enforcement officers, Van Cutsem said the biggest single threat was that the unsatisfactory living conditions could increase the spread of the coronavirus.

On Tuesday the City’s executive director for Safety and Security, Richard Bosman, said: “The City received the papers and it is currently considering its position.” DM