Carlos Mesquita reflects on his time at the Strandfontein camp this time last year, stating how living at the temporary shelter had caused left him traumatised. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
Carlos Mesquita reflects on his time at the Strandfontein camp this time last year, stating how living at the temporary shelter had caused left him traumatised. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Strandfontein homeless: Looking back a year later - Part 1

By Carlos Mesquita Time of article published Apr 7, 2021

Share this article:

My birthday on March 27 will never be the same again.

It now commemorates the day I was picked up by Law Enforcement at Riebeek Park and transported to the new Culemborg site.

The next day, Saturday, we were told we had to move to a new well-equipped site for the duration of the lockdown.

On Sunday morning, I awoke to everyone packing just before 8am and outside the Culemborg gates were a row of luxurious buses. Suddenly it became compulsory to get on.

It was the most anxious bus ride of my life. We arrive and the first person I see, is JP Smith.

A lady pushes past and screams back at JP that they need film footage of the event. He points to e.tv and other stations, but she is adamant that they need their own team filming.

Wherever you look are law enforcement officers and private security. My stomach turns.

Wherever I looked were buses and homeless people, some, like us, with virtually nothing, while others looked as if they had managed to bring along 10 years’ worth of skarrel.

To be registered at the camp took approximately 4-5 hours.

The first question I was asked: “Have you ever been arrested and by which station?” I wondered what that had to do with protecting us from contracting Covid -19.

That, and the fact there were at least 200 security personnel present. All would soon make sense.

On that first night we were just over 600 individuals in The Haven tent No.2. Before Covid-19 the tent was meant for 500 guests at functions.

We awoke the next morning to the news, and stench, of someone who had died during the night.

There was chaos. It took the powers-that-be until 6pm to remove the body. We were forced to eat our meals and sit in the tent with his body. We were told we would be informed of the cause of death.

Nothing to date.

By April 4, things were unbearable. It was one of the most difficult days I ever had to face: the ugly side of Strandfontein had reached its peak so quickly. Girls were being paid R20 for sex by some security guards, bathrooms were lice infested and the taps in the porta-loos, the two out of the 20 that worked, had sewer water coming out of them.

The food, then prepared by The Haven, had arrived for the second day in a row already bubbling over from being off.

Those with withdrawals (especially those who had been on “Unga”) were struggling to cope. This was aggravated by the fact they could not even smoke a single cigarette already cost R20.

No one was looking after the invalids or changing their nappies while the guys on anti-retrovirals had no medication.

Godfrey, an elderly gentleman, was close to death with an infection in his bladder. His catheter had not been changed on the due date.

Nandipha was being carried by Lance and myself to the lady’s rest rooms every time she needed the toilet. Her TB was weakening her and she could no longer walk.

Children were crying because they had to hide in the tent all day and we just could’t rest.

We each received a thin blanket, which we could choose to either lie on or cover ourselves with (no mattresses), yet The Haven staff had built a room for themselves in the tent with sealed bales of blankets and refused to give us more than one blanket – not even for the ill who were shaking from the fever.

Each day became known as just another day in “paradise” for us.

To be continued…

* 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.

Cape Argus

Do you have something on your mind; or want to comment on the big stories of the day? We would love to hear from you. Please send your letters to [email protected]

All letters must have your proper name and a valid email address to be considered for publication.

Share this article: