This article first appeared in the 1 July 2022 edition of the Cape Argus newspaper.
Cape Town - Nearly six years after the Street People's Movement submitted a dossier of complaints to the SA Human Rights Commission, accusing the City, CCID and the police of violating the rights of homeless people in the metro, the Commission is yet to release its findings.
This follows after it held an engagement with the government on the plight of the homeless community in the metro almost two weeks ago. The engagement followed what the Commission said were several complaints lodged in recent years relating to the treatment of homeless people by law enforcement agencies.
The Commission said that over the past few years, it received and noted a multitude of challenges faced by the people living and sleeping on the streets in the Cape Town metro and the province at large.
It said the meeting’s primary purpose was to engage with the Western Cape Inter-governmental Forum regarding best practices and mechanisms which were used to deal with the issue of homelessness in the province.
The Nehemia Call Initiative said it took the Commission almost a year (August 2017) to forward the case to the respondents after the complaint was filed in October 2016. It has now demanded that the Commission release the findings of its investigation.
At the time, the dossier contained submissions from more than 100 homeless people with complaints, including the use of force by the law enforcement agencies and threats, harassment, and intimidation. They also complained about the shortage of shelters in the CBD to accommodate the number of homeless in the city.
In a letter to the City, CCID, police and the Department of Social Development, and dated 23 August 2017, the Commission raised 12 questions which it gave the respondents until 19 September 2017 to respond to.
The police were asked about the human rights training provided to its members to ensure that their actions do not violate the rights of the homeless people.
The City was quizzed about its authority to demolish the homeless people's structures, alternative accommodation for the homeless, water and sanitation plans for the homeless, and its plans to house the homeless.
The Social Development Department was asked about its oversight of shelters and its plans to expand shelters.
Nehemia Call Initiative founder Dean Ramjoomia, who was the main complainant, said while there had been significant changes, some of the complaints were still outstanding. He said the struggle for justice against the abuse of homeless people by the state, local government, and other cohorts continued.
“Some of the respondents failed to answer the Street People’s Movement complaints and the SAHRC itself failed to adequately and properly hold the COCT, CCID, and SAPS accountable as it relates to our people’s document,” Ramjoomia said.
Western Cape Provincial Office of the Commission (WCPO) Acting Senior Legal Officer Nandi Nonandi Diko said since receipt of the complaint the (WCPO) received various other complaints of the same nature and also initiated its investigation.
Diko said several meetings and consultations were held between the CCID and the WCPO to find amicable solutions.
“It was during these meetings that the idea of meeting with the homeless community, CCID, and all other relevant parties, was canvassed, which led to the WCPO deciding on dialogues as part of an intervention to address systemic violations of the rights of homeless people in Cape Town and the greater Western Cape”, she said.
Following these dialogues, Diko said the Department of Social Development has convened an “intergovernmental forum” (the Forum) to conceptualise, co-create, and coordinate the implementation of measures to mitigate the challenges associated with the rapid escalation of people living on the street and to address issues referred to the in Street People’s Movement’s complaint.
She said these discussions were ongoing and the WCPO would keep the complainants updated on developments.
Diko said the Commission was considering joining litigation brought by Ndifuna Ukwazi against the City and the provincial government, challenging the constitutionality of the controversial Streets, Public Places, and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances By-law.