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SAHRC asked to probe continued ‘onslaught’ against the homeless people in Mitchells Plain

A complaint has been lodged with the Human Rights Commission after another dismantling of structures belonging to homeless people in the Mitchell's Plain area. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

A complaint has been lodged with the Human Rights Commission after another dismantling of structures belonging to homeless people in the Mitchell's Plain area. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 25, 2022

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Cape Town - SA Human Rights Commission has been asked to probe alleged continual harassment by the City’s law enforcement officers of homeless people in Mitchells Plain.

A complaint lodged by civil society organisation the Nehemiah Call Initiative follows another dismantling of structures belonging to a group of homeless people who had sought refuge on an open field between Westpoort Road and the Mitchells Plain Town Centre taxi rank.

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The group have also been at odds with law enforcement officers for constantly serving them with notices and fines.

On more than two occasions, Nehemiah Call Initiative founder Dean Ramjoomia captured the officers and the police on camera, dismantling and confiscating the homeless people’s structures. The latest incident happened on Monday, a day before the city experienced inclement weather.

Ramjoomia said the organisation was appalled at the behaviour and conduct of law enforcement agencies, who repeatedly express no regard for the law relating to people occupying land illegally.

He said this was a deliberate and strategic action that has been executed consistently, every winter, by the City.

“What has been happening over the past weeks in Mitchells Plain is that the police and law enforcement have proven their failure to obtain an eviction order from a court of law, to be served on the respondents of those that are occupying the land. This is a gross violation of human rights and an onslaught against our people,” he said.

Ramjoomia said further complaints would be lodged with the provincial police ombud.

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Independent homeless consultant Carlos Mesquita said, as predicted, the pressure was on for the City to keep its promise of “getting rid of the problem” once its hands were no longer tied by lockdown regulations.

“I know the encampments don’t look nice and people feel their property values are affected by these unsightly structures. Others, out of concern for the well-being of the homeless, are calling for the removals. But we have to all, for a change, look at the big picture.

“For years, people have been made to believe there are only 3 000 to 4 000 homeless people – we have 2 000 beds so it’s not all bad, and people believed it because it was mostly out of sight.

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“The police and law enforcement act without doing what is required by the situation and the by-law. They need to ensure social development has exhausted all options prior to them becoming involved. They are setting themselves up for more lawsuits,” he said.

Mesquita said homeless people were in dire need of supportive and transitional housing, and rapid rehousing options. He said these punitive interventions and operations were ridiculous.

Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen could not confirm receipt of the complaint and criticised the City’s law enforcement for “selectively” applying the by-law.

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“In some areas like Mitchells Plain and other suburbs, this by-law is applied, but in Khayelitsha, it is not applied. If the law enforcement must apply the by-law it must be without fear or favour.

“While we are in discussions to find a sustainable solution to homelessness we implore law enforcement to have care and humanity in this winter season while at the same time also pleading with the homeless to not behave in a way that infringes the rights of other people,” Nissen said.

Mitchells Plain United Residents Association chairperson Norman Jantjes said their concern was the mushrooming of the structures, which he said was an unsatisfactory and unacceptable situation. He said this has created an unsafe environment for the residents.

“We cannot have people just willy-nilly put up structures. We had looked at the situation and discovered that some of them are genuinely homeless, while some are not – as they have families in the areas and surrounding areas.

“We believe that law enforcement and the police have a responsibility when it comes to the prevention of crime. I was reliably informed that some of them are involved in criminal activities and, for that, they must be charged.

“At the same time, the City's got a department that deals with homelessness, and they should investigate all of this, develop a database, and either ensure that those people are reunited with their families or alternative accommodation is provided,” he said.

Jantjes said the law enforcement agencies can’t employ a blanket approach by inhumanely removing everyone.

He said if no action was taken immediately, more people would move to the field and create a difficult situation to contain.

The police confirmed that Mitchells Plain police participated in the integrated operation near to Wespoort Road on Monday and referred questions for further comment to the City.

The City’s law enforcement spokesperson Wayne Dyason said city officials only assisted in the police operation as were requested.

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Cape Argus

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