The appearance of the tent in one of the city’s main streets created a war of words on social media.
DA councillor Shane Griqua pointed out on Wednesday that he had taken offence to a post that referred to the group of homeless people as “gemors” (rubbish).
“I was deeply offended and wanted to lay a complaint with the Human Rights Commission,” Griqua stated on Wednesday.
“No one knows the circumstances that led to these people being forced to sleep on the street. Not all homeless people are robbers and drug addicts. Some just don’t have anywhere else to go.”
The small tent, which was set up on the corner of Lennox and Jones streets, was home to four men, who were on Wednesday totally oblivious to the storm that has erupted over their heads.
One of the men, who was still sleeping in the tent on Wednesday mid-morning while shoppers carried on their daily business around him, said he had been there “for months”.
Emmanuel Matyalana said he was forced to live on the street because he had “nowhere else to go”.
Born in Kimberley, Matyalane said he had lived with his parents in Galeshewe until their deaths. “I used to sleep against the windows (of Woolworths) with the other men but then this other person gave us the tent. At least it is warm in here.”
Matyalane added that the group stored their blankets and other “bits of clothing” in the tent. “We lock it if none of us is here so that no one can steal our things.”
The group cook their food in the brick dirt bins close by and wash themselves in Queen’s Park.
Matyalane referred to a community of homeless people who continue to sleep in the alcoves of the windows of Woolworths. “There are a group of street children who sleep there and I also know of another man and woman.”
Matyalane has never worked and his dream would be “a skroppie” (a part-time job). Currently he provides his services as a car guard to earn a “few pennies”.
“There aren’t any shanties for us,” he adds. “We have nowhere else to live.”
According to Matyalane no one interferes with them or has told them to move their tent.
All that, however, changed on Wednesday after the Sol Plaatje Municipality’s security department took action and confiscated the tent, chasing the occupants away.
A business owner in the CBD stated that the increase in the number of homeless people sleeping in the city centre had become a major problem.
She indicated specifically to a makeshift shelter that had been erected on the fire escape stairs of a building in Dunell Street in the CBD.
“The filth is unbelievable and I don’t know what to do any more. I pay exorbitant rates and taxes for my business and this is what my customers have to face. I empathise with the homeless, especially as it gets colder, but this is not acceptable.”
She added that the police had been contacted. “According to the police, however, the owners of the building need to get an eviction order before they can take action.”
It is believed that the owner lives in Johannesburg.
While the municipality’s security department visited the area on Wednesday, they too indicated that they could not take action as it was on private property.
Municipal spokesperson, Sello Matsie, confirmed on Wednesday that the tent in the CBD had been confiscated following complaints from members of the public.
“Members of the public complained that it had been erected next to the traffic lights and businesses. It is a clear violation of our by-laws and this action is just the beginning of reclaiming the central business district.”
Matsie added that property owners were also called on to ensure that vagrants were prevented from setting up brothels and drug dealing businesses on their properties. The next area that will be targeted will be the drug-infested area around Stockdale Street, where drugs are sold openly in full view of the public,” Matsie said.
“Property owners will have to take full responsibility as their properties are the main source of a problem affecting the public.”
He warned that the municipality would be approaching the courts to obtain permission to demolish buildings that were being used for criminal activities.
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