Cape Town - After mounting pressure from the public and an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court, the City has returned some of the belongings it confiscated from the homeless in Green Point.
On Monday last week, the City’s law enforcement officers demolished tents housing more than 20 homeless people on vacant land next to the Green Point Tennis Club called “Tent City”, and confiscated their belongings.
Organisations representing the homeless approached the high court for an order compelling the City to return the tents and other dwelling materials.
A draft order by the court on Friday acknowledged that the agreement would not resolve the dispute between the parties, and the matter would be argued tomorrow.
Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre’s attorney, Daniellé Louw, welcomed the return of the shelters, but questioned why the City would “illegally” deprive poor and vulnerable people of their only shelter on one of the coldest days of the year, during the peak of Cape Town’s Covid-19 third wave.
Ndifuna Ukwazi is an advocacy group that represents the homeless.
Louw said the City’s inhumane and heartless actions stood in stark contrast to the City’s international law obligations, which prohibited evictions during bad weather.
He said the court order did not, however, resolve the return of other personal possessions taken during the law enforcement raid, such as some of the occupiers’ identity documents, drivers’ licences, clinic and medication cards, without which they would be unable to access social support grants or obtain chronic medication.
“While our clients are glad that their tents have been returned, it is clear that the City will continue to harass and illegally evict occupants living in tents and makeshift structures throughout the City until ordered by a court to cease this senseless displacement,” said Louw.
He said the illegal eviction of occupants living next to the Green Point Tennis Club did not resolve the systemic issues prevalent in the society.
“In fact, it perpetuates vulnerability and is inhumane and heartless. We look forward to arguing our clients’ case in court,” he said.
Carlos Mesquita, a member of Rehoming Collective, said he was relieved that at least the law enforcement aspect of the matter that was brought before the court had been seen by the court for what it was and always is.
Mesquita said the officers have been acting as a law into their unto themselves when it comes to homeless interventions.
“They are used to getting away with their illegitimate and criminal behaviour against a voiceless minority. This judgment that they immediately return that which they took vindicates all those that have been called liars when they have tried to tell it as it is,” said Mesquita.
He said he has a feeling that the manner and urgency with which the aspect of the case was handled by the City was going to have a profound impact.
“It’s important that a court of law has verified the illegitimacy of law enforcement’s interventions against the homeless,” he said.
The City said the matter was sub judice, and it would not provide any further comment.
Good Party secretary-general Brett Herron said there was no lawful basis for the City to confiscate any person’s possessions.
Herron said the City was unable to comprehend that it was bound by the rule of law, just like any other organ of state, and it was not above the law.
He said the unlawful removal of items such as identity documents was vindictive and cruel. “It prevents the most vulnerable people accessing services like social grants. It’s outrageous. Taking people’s blankets and bedding in the middle of this cold winter is heartless.