Cape Town – Global medical rescue organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has made scathing findings against the City of Cape Town’s Strandfontein temporary relocation camp, saying gross overcrowding made for dangerous Covid-19 and tuberculosis transmission risks.
Their findings come amid shocking allegations that the City has issued fines of R500 to the homeless, which need to be paid by July.
MSF inspectors visited the Strandfontein site on Saturday, where at least 1 500 people were being kept, many against their will. It was one of several temporary shelters for the destitute and homeless in Cape Town, Tshwane and Joburg that they visited.
Senior TB/HIV adviser with MSF, Dr Gilles van Cutsem, said the danger of harm is great in Strandfontein, and should alarm everyone.
“If anyone were to develop Covid-19 or TB in the camp, the chances for medical staff detecting it early are small, whereas the risk for transmission to many others is very high due to gross overcrowding and because the availability of screening and health-care services is erratic.
“Residents of Strandfontein include several elderly people, at least one with severely altered mental state, people with HIV, a known risk factor for tuberculosis and a potential risk factor for Covid-19. Several people have severe mental health diseases such as schizophrenia and dementia.
"There are people with urinary and faecal incontinence, several people with chronic respiratory conditions and people with hypertension,” Van Cutsem said.
MSF said the City of Tshwane initially opened similar large-scale, high-occupancy relocation camps, but quickly changed their approach, appreciating the risks of “such unworkable set-ups”, and then opened smaller, less congested shelters that are easier to manage.
An added concern for MSF was the high level of uncertainty and ambiguity on whether people housed in the current camps, such as Strandfontein, were there voluntarily.
“In addition to violating individual rights, it might further exacerbate the public health risk posed by Covid-19, because vulnerable people don’t all trust authorities, and their legitimate fears of detention might force some underground, causing them to altogether avoid seeking care, even when needed,” said Liesbeth Schockaert, MSF project co-ordinator for Regional Migration.
Jonty Cogger, an attorney at human rights organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi, said if the City does not take immediate action, it faces potential loss of life.
A man was arrested for allegedly raping a teenager at the camp last week.
“We have a dozen positive TB cases and no confirmed cases of Covid-19. Community Chest calls on the City of Cape Town to immediately allow people to leave that site because it is not safe.
“It is more dangerous for people to be located on the site than to be outside of the site,” he said.
The City has maintained that politics are behind the criticism for sheltering the homeless at what has been described as a “concentration camp”.
Mayco member for community services Zahid Badroodien said every person who has come on site has been screened for Covid-19 as well as TB, and other chronic conditions.
He said 142 people have left the site, either to be reunited with their families, or of their own volition.
“This is a clear indication that no person is being held against their will.
“We will not deny that this particular operation has been challenging – it was always going to be a tough task.
“There were some unavoidable delays, but we moved to address these as quickly as possible.
“However, the City’s efforts have been vilified by a number of sectors and the matter has taken a decidedly political turn, which is unfortunate – particularly as much of the condemnation has been based on untested claims,” Badroodien said.
Good Party secretary-general Brett Herron yesterday raised the alarm on fines being issued to the homeless at the site.
%%%twitter https://twitter.com/hashtag/lockdown?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#lockdownat Strandfontein Camp by @CityofCT are now being fined by the law enforcement. The fine I've seen is for R500 which must be paid by 15 July or the homeless person must appear in Mitchells Plain Court on 29 July pic.twitter.com/NI5LSZ696X
— Brett Herron (@brettherron)
He said a fine he has seen was for R500, which needed to be paid by July 15 or the homeless person will appear in the Mitchells Plain Magistrate's Court on July 29.
“The Strandfontein camp has been a chaotic and shambolic attempt at shelter. Now it seems the City has completely lost its mind by issuing fines to the penniless homeless people. A picture is emerging of a government that is out of control,” Herron said.
City executive director for safety and security Richard Bosman said: “The City has just obtained further particulars relating to the fine. We will look into the allegation before responding.”