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Poor struggling amid home demolitions, water cuts and ‘camps’ in Cape Town

A frustrated homeless man at the Strandfontein shelter tries to break down the fence at the facility. Picture: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency (ANA)

A frustrated homeless man at the Strandfontein shelter tries to break down the fence at the facility. Picture: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 14, 2020


Cape Town – Home demolitions, water cuts and being forced into what has been described as “concentration camps” of the City have made life impossible for the most vulnerable during lockdown.

Their anguish peaked at the weekend, after the City tore down structures at Empolweni informal settlement along Baden Powell Drive in Khayelitsha.

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Among those detained was Social Justice Coalition (SJC) general secretary Axolile Notywala.

Minister for Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu wants to get to the bottom of things when she visits the informal settlement this week.

This comes as the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) is expected to file an urgent application to the high court today to interdict the City from further demolishing and evicting residents.

In an affidavit, resident Nkuthazo Habile said he has lived in the area since November last year.

“Law enforcement officers did not return to Empolweni until April 9. On that date, a law-enforcement officer of the City returned and demolished our home, and all the other homes in the settlement,” Habile said.

Notywala said he was disgusted by the City’s “continued ignorance as they kept coming back to demolish and destroy people’s homes” during lockdown. 

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“We were in the back of a van and when the gentleman I was taken in with wanted to relieve himself, we were told we did not have rights,” he said.

Mayco member for Human Settlements Malusi Booi at the weekend wrote that attempts to illegally occupy land were in contravention of the current lockdown and Covid-19 regulations. Booi was chased out of the area and stones were thrown at his vehicle.

“A piece of land in Khayelitsha is currently under threat of being illegally invaded and occupied. This attempted illegal occupation is in direct contempt of a court order obtained by the City. 

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"It must be made clear no eviction is taking place and only incomplete, unoccupied and illegally built structures are being removed,” he said. Sisulu meanwhile has said all evictions should be stopped, and water not turned off.

Her department said yesterday: “Regarding the Mkhaza evictions, the minister received mixed messages as to what occurred. 

"She was informed that the people who were evicted were being prevented from erecting new shacks, while other reports indicated that the people invaded the land with assistance from an opposition party.

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“The minister has undertaken to travel to the Western Cape this week to get to the bottom of the situation, and to find a long-lasting solution.”

At the Strandfontein Sports Complex, where the City is sheltering about

2 000 homeless people, officers remained on high alert after a man was arrested for allegedly raping an 18-year-old. 

The City also continues to receive backlash for “forcing” the homeless people to stay in Strandfontein.

The South African Network of People Who Use Drugs (SANPUD) said the current situation, “where 2 000 people found on the street were corralled into a crowded space at the Strandfontein Sports Grounds”, had increased their stress and exposure to risk.

They said they were refused access to help the homeless at the weekend. 

“The site was ill-prepared with adequate plumbing, ventilation,

health-care services or educational measures to ensure residents can take the preventative measures recommended

by authorities. 

"The absence of the psychosocial services and the lack of access to drugs they are dependent on will further destabilise this vulnerable group,” the group said.

The Enon Baptist Tabernacle Church in Eerste River has now offered to house some of the homeless people. Church pastor Jacobus Nomdoe said the church’s decision was an “expression of our love for God and people”.

Mayco member for community health and services Zahid Badroodien denied that SANPUD was refused access.

“The access is strictly controlled and a prior visit must be arranged through the correct channels,” he said.

He welcomed the church’s help.

“He has committed to assisting with accommodating some of our homeless people from Strandfontein in his facility with a specific focus on individuals who have a substance (abuse) history. 

"I do hope that other organisations are able to assist in the same way so that our homeless can continue to receive care as their needs and circumstances determine,” Badroodien said.

When it came to accessibility to water, Langa and Khayelitsha residents were adamant that the City cut their water during lockdown, while the City refuted it.

Langa Community Advice Services task team member Anele Gqasana said: “We sent a list of all the households without water three weeks ago, and to date few of them have been fixed. 

"Every time I ask why they are taking so long, they tell me about processes of logging in complaints and the shortage of agents on the ground.”

She said the residents’ water had been cut due to unpaid bills.

Mayco member for finance Ian Neilson said the City was not aware of general water supply disruptions in Khayelitsha, and all areas of Cape Town continued to receive full water supply at adequate pressure.

There were, however, a limited number of properties that were placed on a trickle-flow restriction due to debt management before the City stopping such restrictions from March 2020, before the lockdown period. 

“The City will look in general at the supply of these areas. However, specific cases would need to be logged via C3 notification at the City’s call centre for investigation. The City is not aware of supply problems in general,” he said.

Cape Times

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