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Homeless take City to court over fines

File picture: Zanele Zulu/ African News Agengy (ANA)

File picture: Zanele Zulu/ African News Agengy (ANA)

Published Aug 26, 2019

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Cape Town – A group of homeless people have hauled the City to the Western Cape High Court to seek an urgent interdict to force it to drop fines issued against them and to prevent new ones.

Lawyers from Dingley Marshall Inc have filed an urgent application seeking to interdict the City from enforcing or further prosecuting compliance notices and summonses to homeless people, and interfering with or confiscating their personal property, pending a review into the lawfulness of the by-laws.

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The City said the matter was with its legal services department.

The seven applicants in the case are Carin Rhoode Gelderblom, Emily Smith, Vuyo Mbozi, Natasha Persent, Xolani Siboxo, Patricia Geyser and Beaulah Meyer.

During the first three months of this year, the City metro police’s displaced persons unit had, according to the City, received 3051 complaints from the public about “anti-social behaviour” by people living on the street. In response, the unit issued 199 fines to the homeless for contravening the by-law which, among others, makes it unlawful to “obstruct pedestrian traffic on sidewalks”.

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The move was lambasted by civil organisations and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers had put together a team of attorneys and advocates to challenge the validity, relevance and constitutionality of the by-laws.

In her affidavit, 49-year-old applicant Gelderblom, who was born in Athlone, said she and a friend identified as Quanita were fined R500 each for dumping and littering.

According to her, they were summonsed to appear in the Municipal Court on June 22.

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“I asked the officials who issued us with fines why it recorded the offences as being dumping and littering. We showed them that, save for our personal possessions, the area around us was clean and free of litter or waste.

“He said that it was ‘just a procedure’ and we ‘don’t have to worry’. I took offence at being accused of littering, as I am strongly opposed to littering. I was certainly not guilty of littering,” she said.

Gelderblom argued that there was no prejudice if the interim interdictory relief was granted.

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“If however the interim interdictory relief is refused, we as applicants will be massively prejudiced by the continued unlawful enforcement of laws, which effectively criminalise living on the street. We simply do not have the ability to pay the fines imposed on us.

“Not only are we deprived of the right to live with dignity, but we face imprisonment for non-payment of the fines which have been imposed.”

Gelderblom charged that the City, through its officials, has disregarded their constitutional rights in the way they treated her and other homeless people.

Richard Bosman, the City’s executive director for safety and security, confirmed that the City was served with the court papers on Thursday.

“The papers are currently with legal services and the City will respond accordingly in its answering affidavit,” he said.

Director at Dingley Marshall Inc, Lucien Lewin, said a pro bono advocate was appointed to the case.

“We are hoping to get an order for all the homeless in this matter. This was not a case of them walking into my office asking for help. 

"I heard about the City fining people for being homeless, and attended a Community Chest meeting relating to this matter.

Afterwards, I offered to act on behalf of anyone who wanted to challenge the City on these by-laws. The homeless people came to my office and that is where various affidavits were drawn up,” Lewin said.

In his affidavit Siboxo, 49, said he was issued with a compliance notice and fine by the City’s law enforcement on August 19. “I do not know on what basis this fine was given to me, as I was merely sitting with my personal possessions,” Siboxo said

Lewin said the City had until the end of today to oppose the application.

If they choose to oppose it, they have until Wednesday to file an answering affidavit, Lewin said.

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