Imagine being homeless and jobless, with your family in a country which guarantees you through its Constitution the right to dignity, food, shelter, security, education, etc and you can’t get access to any of these inalienable rights.
Your continued poverty is a nuisance to the affluence of the bureaucracy, which is supposed to provide you with services to mitigate your poverty. You can’t afford education. You can’t afford housing. You can’t afford food to feed your family. You have been on the council housing lists for decades. You migrated to the Western Cape and you can’t access any services.
And then imagine that same government punishes you for not being able to access those inalienable rights.
This week, the City of Cape Town said to poor people: go live in homeless shelters if you’re poor or if you don’t have a home. Don’t sleep on the streets. Because if you sleep on the streets, we will fine you. But to get into the shelters you need R20 or R30 a night. So you need to beg on the same streets for the R30 to get into the shelter.
But if you beg on the streets, you also are going to get fined. And there are none or not enough jobs for people to get paid work. So you will get fined, and possibly imprisoned for being poor. How 1982 is that for you?
And, if truth be told, probably some 80% of South Africans are four to six pay-cheques away from being in the same position - homeless! This is about all of us.
This “Donald Trumpian” approach to public leadership, governance and vulnerable people should deeply concern us. It’s not the by-law that’s the issue - it’s how those in power wish to use these laws that is the problematic part. It’s how they use old laws to pursue outdated policies and practices. For example in regular jurisprudence not every crime gets the ultimate sentence, because of a host of mitigating circumstances. It’s common sense.
But in this “Donald Trump School of Leadership”you get the worst the law has to offer you if you’re poor.
In light of this week’s media report on the City of Cape Town’s action against the homeless community, Community Chest has called for an urgent meeting with stakeholders to discuss a legal and human rights understanding of the issue and to determine a civil society response.
We have invited the Human Rights Commission, several shelter managers, a lawyer and three other stakeholders to help us examine, interrogate and engage with the crucial issues at play here and plan a collective, co-ordinated response to the issues affecting vulnerable people.
Following this meeting, we will draft and distribute a media release communicating the outcomes.
To obtain more information on this crucial dialogue, you can request more information from Desiré Goliath on 0214871500 or email her at [email protected]
We will not be silent on acts which criminalise poverty. You cannot fine people for being homeless. Yes, in the 1960s you fined us for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Or for standing in the wrong queue. And you fined us for refusing to go to the small window at the back of the main shop. And you fined us for swimming on the “wrong beaches”.
City of Cape Town, you cannot fine our elders - again - for they have lived through the horrors of such discrimination for most of their childhood. Some of them are on the streets today because of discrimination experienced over decades, jobs lost to job reservation laws, houses lost through spatial apartheid, businesses lost through economic apartheid.
Now they and their children are going to be fined again - for being poor. We will mobilise to pack the courts with a class action case if necessary. This is 2019.
We refuse to be fined - again - for being poor. And there is a Constitutional Court.
If you are a lawyer wishing to offer pro-bono services in this matter, please contact the email address above.
* Lorenzo Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.