A homeless man shouts from behind a fenced-off area during a media tour of the Strandfontein temporary shelter site in Cape Town. For the first time, the ANC has supported a long-standing civil society call for a minimum income grant for the unemployed and for informal sector workers.(Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)
NEWS | By Vincent Cruywagen | 20 April 2020
A lawyer says the situation at Strandfontein creates a high risk and threatens the health and well-being of the homeless as well as the Strandfontein community.
An assessment carried out by a team under the auspices of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) indicated the site at Strandfontein sports field serving as a temporary shelter for homeless people is overcrowded, not properly ventilated and posed a continued risk.
According to Dr Giles van Gutsen of Doctors Without Borders, the single largest threat is that these unsatisfactory living conditions could increase the spread of the coronavirus. His remarks were part of the findings and recommendations contained in a report handed to the SAHRC.
Van Gutsen’s concerns came in the wake of an oversight visit on Saturday 18 April by leaders of opposition parties. SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen facilitated the meeting and Van Gutsen was one of the members present at the site. However, Faiez Jacobs, ANC member for Greater Athlone, and members of the FF+ were denied access to the camp by law enforcement officers.
According to Jacobs, Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato and City of Cape Town Mayco Member for Safety and Security JP Smith had been invited but had not turned up. Plato has denied this.
Van Gutsen said: “We found that up to 600 people stayed in one tent. Smaller sites would be more appropriate to control the spread of the virus and greater care be executed.”
Jacobs told the media what had transpired at the site was unacceptable, adding members of Parliament had a duty and a right to carry out oversight.
“I phoned the provincial police commissioner, General Yolisa Matakata, and Police Minister Bheki Cele. We are in a crisis pandemic so the national command takes jurisdiction of everything,” said Jacobs.
The volatile situation was defused when an acting cluster commander from the Mitchells Plain police station arrived at the scene. A female pastor, Annie Kerr, who was part of the assessment team, said the team had consisted of a doctor from Doctors without Borders, a gender-violence specialist, a social worker, and a human rights advocate.
The pastor said the report established that the primary aim of the camp was to serve as a shelter to ensure that street-based people had a safe environment in which to comply with the lockdown regulations.
“Our biggest concern was when going into the tents and the health tent where people arriving were screened. We were told by the City’s health officials that people were screened for Covid-19, TB, other sickness and informed nobody was tested positive,” she said.
There were three tents: the Haven for Cape Town street-based people, Ubuntu for people from the Strand and Oasis for people from Muizenberg to Fish Hoek.
“We’ve found it was really overcrowded. The national regulation said we mustn’t gather more than 50, but in the Haven tent there were more than 600. Only two days ago, markings were done on floors to indicate social distances.”
Women reported feeling unsafe and asked for a separate tent.
… in a dramatic twist, the Strandfontein Ratepayers Association and the Strandfontein Social and Economic Forum have obtained the service of a legal adviser to assist them to find an amicable solution to the health risks in the area.
FF+ spokesperson Erika Botha-Rossouw, lambasting the actions of the City, highlighted that Plato had failed to inform the multi-party committee about the situation at Strandfontein.
“Plato and Smith have refused that councillors carry out their oversight responsibility. We have been told by Doctors without Borders that there were no medical doctors on the site. Ambulances are called to the camp by the law enforcement officers. The FF+ wants the people at the Strandfontein camp to be relocated to smaller sites,” Botha-Rossouw said.
Plato told Daily Maverick that he had been informed by the DA’s chief whip on Friday at about 10am of the visit by Nissen and political parties. At that time, Plato said, he was handing out food in Nyanga and not honouring this could have resulted in an explosive situation.
“The SAHRC have to follow protocol and in advance inform the City of any planned visits so that arrangements are made to meet the delegation. The Strandfontein camp is a unique site where people of different races are getting the best service from the City.
“We have gangsters, alcoholics and drug addicts all living together and we have professionals on duty to look at their needs. Yes, we get the one or two drug addicts screaming out loud at times, but this is all part of their withdrawal systems. I, therefore, question the findings of the assessment team that no doctors are on duty,” Plato said.
Meanwhile, in a dramatic twist, the Strandfontein Ratepayers Association and the Strandfontein Social and Economic Forum have obtained the service of a legal adviser to assist them to find an amicable solution to the health risks in the area.
Vernon Seymour, an associate from Lionel Cay Attorneys in Grassy Park, in a letter dated 17 April, requested the City to close the Strandfontein shelter within seven days.
A failure to do so would result in an application to the Western Cape High Court.
“We are instructed that the site fails to comply with the Covid-19 regulations and its establishment there is simply irrational. According to our instructions, the city council has decided to accommodate about 1,600 people in six marquee tents for, at least, the duration of the lockdown period.”
Seymour said any mass gathering, such as the situation at Strandfontein, created a high risk and threatened the health and well-being of the homeless as well as the Strandfontein community. DM