Strandfontein now finally makes sense to me. It was the City bringing out its 2014 blueprint for homeless “work camps”. Photograph:Phando Jikelo/african News Agency(ANA)
Strandfontein now finally makes sense to me. It was the City bringing out its 2014 blueprint for homeless “work camps”. Photograph:Phando Jikelo/african News Agency(ANA)

Concentration camps in the works for the homeless?

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 2, 2020

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by Carlos Mesquita

This week I heard of the resurgence of an idea first published in this very newspaper and later in a Mail & Guardian article titled: “Cape Town’s ‘work camps’ for the homeless cause alarm.”

If you think that this can’t possibly be true, consider this:

During this past month, numerous homeless “hotspots” have been visited by law enforcement accompanied by Mayco member for Safety and Security JP Smith.

On three occasions, he allegedly stated that by this time next year, there would be no homeless people living on the streets of Cape Town.

A report headlined “Cape Town spends in excess of R744 million a year handling homelessness”, published last week, puts the homeless population in Cape Town and surrounds at over 14 000.

The City has approximately 2 800 bed spaces for the homeless at shelters and safe spaces.

Some 95% are occupied – the other 5% are usually for women and in outlying areas.

Having done the maths, there is no way that shelter space is the answer to reaching Alderman Smith’s objective.

Strandfontein now finally makes sense to me. Covid-19 and the urgent need to find a means of keeping the homeless safe during its course saw the City bringing out its 2014 blueprint for homeless “work camps”.

It realised this was its opportunity to implement the controversial policy. When you spend close on R60 million and are still building office blocks on site two weeks prior to announcing the closure of the site under the weight of lawsuits and public outrage, you cannot expect anyone to believe the lie that it was always planned to be temporary.

Best of all, the national government was footing part of the bill.

Then on Friday, I was engaged by a councillor to have a discussion on the state of homelessness in our city.

He wanted inside information on the much anticipated “Inkathalo Conversations” report due out soon.

He needed to ascertain whether it was going to assist him or make his task of removing homeless people from the streets more difficult.

He stated that once the lockdown was lifted the City would be moving in full force to remove the homeless from sight. He asked me for my input on what the best way forward was. When I mentioned the words “homing the homeless”, his opinion was that housing was not an option – he preferred a work solution.

This has been said before. JP Smith, on initially launching the Safe Spaces concept, said something similar.

That is what the safe spaces were meant to be and is probably the reason the City has been so slow to act on the alleged gross violations at the Paint City Safe Space in Bellville.

A visit there and you will think you have just been to a concentration camp.

I can also confirm that the City is about to replace its current service provider at Culemburg’s second Safe Space with yet another unknown service provider without any experience or references my search could identify. The contract is valued at roughly R20 million for the next two years.

Only about R6 000 per month has been allocated for skills development and programmes.

An idea is afloat out there to deal with the city’s homeless population by creating a concentration camp of sorts at some disused and far removed site/s where you and I will no longer be able to see the problem.

If you can’t see the homeless any longer, who will see them? Who will know? Shocked and concerned?

So am I.

* Carlos Mesquita and a handful of others formed HAC (the Homeless Action Committee) that lobbies for the rights of the homeless. He also manages Our House in Oranjezicht, which is powered by the Community Chest.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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