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City slammed ‘for abusing by-laws to harass homeless’

The City has been slammed for confiscating the belongings of homeless people living in the CBD. The City says it was conducting a multi-departmental operation to address criminal activity and improve safety and dignity in the immediate vicinity of tented camps in the city centre. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African news Agency (ANA)

The City has been slammed for confiscating the belongings of homeless people living in the CBD. The City says it was conducting a multi-departmental operation to address criminal activity and improve safety and dignity in the immediate vicinity of tented camps in the city centre. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African news Agency (ANA)

Published May 27, 2022

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Cape Town - Activists and advocacy groups had to scrabble for accommodation, warm clothes and food for a number of homeless people this week after law enforcement took their belongings as winter sets in.

The City has again been slammed for the alleged abuse of by-laws to harass homeless people after it confiscated tents and belongings of people in the CBD, allegedly without notice.

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Ndifuna Ukwazi’s Zacharia Mashele said there were three incidents last week where officers fined and confiscated the personal belongings of more than twenty families living on the street.

“Concerned residents have also reported law enforcement officers, and in one instance, a private security company, intimidating families. These actions were conducted in terms of the City of Cape Town’s controversial Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Noise Nuisances By-Law, despite the fact that this by-law is currently being challenged in the High Court and Equality Court on the basis that it discriminates against people struggling with homelessness and infringes their constitutional rights.”

Mashele said the use of the by-law to confiscate occupiers’ homes effectively amounted to illegal evictions that were carried out by the law enforcement officers without court orders.

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“Ndifuna Ukwazi strongly condemns the actions of the city’s law enforcement unit and related divisive tactics. Our attempts to resolve these matters, both through ongoing dialogues as well as litigation, does not amount to encouraging or prevailing homelessness, but rather encouraging the city to look beyond criminalising or fining the homeless.

“In a country, where our history is riddled with violent displacement, these by-laws provide an unprecedented power to law enforcement to act outside the Constitution and remove, criminalise and fine the poor,” said Mashele.

In a statement the City said throughout this week it was conducting a multi-departmental operation to address criminal activity and improve safety and dignity in the immediate vicinity of tented camps in the CBD.

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“Urban Waste teams cleared discarded items and waste while Social Development professionals offered alternative shelter and social assistance to help people off the streets and recorded the responses. This is part of an ongoing city-wide effort to assess the social circumstances of people living on the streets.

“The City’s enforcement services conducted crime prevention operations where necessary, with several units of drugs confiscated and arrests made. Operations were filmed in line with protocol and only discarded items were cleared,” the City said.

The City added that its Streets By-law does not circumvent the need for a court order where a structure is considered a dwelling under the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unauthorised Occupation of Land (PIE) Act.

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“In these instances, the City will act within the law to acquire the necessary court order, and ensure alternative accommodation at shelters or safe spaces where this is just and equitable.”

Cape Times

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