Pretoria - Drug users at the Caledonian Stadium temporary shelter rebelled against officials and volunteers at the weekend - because they wanted drugs.
About 700 homeless people are sheltered there for the 21-day lockdown period, most of whom are drug users.
However, they said they had not stocked up enough and had ran out of nyaope. The group then went into a frenzy, threatening to hold officials hostage.
Some screamed and swore at officials at the top of their lungs, demanding methadone, which changes the way the brain and nervous system responds to pain.
After much deliberation and quarrelling, they were quietened down after being given doses of methadone.
They queued outside the stadium’s gate, some holding on to their stomach from cramps and visibly in pain. Others lay on the ground, suffering in silence.
But methadone was not the only problem on their list of grievances.
Some homeless people complained that the 30 tents set up at the stadium were not enough.
They also complained about the lack of sanitisers, water and food.
Some said they were better off living on the streets than in the tents.
“We are more likely to get coronavirus here at the shelter than in the streets,” said one of them, adding the police forced them into the stadium against their will. There were also reports of minor stabbings and fighting among the group.
Some complained about the portions of food and the lack of blankets they were provided with. “We appreciate the help from the government, but we are not begging for it,” he said.
Another, who said he was 44, said he was concerned the current crisis could force him back into addiction.
“I have been told that my drug mentor won’t see me face to face at the moment. I got a text to this effect, and it is really worrying me. I am recovering and life is going very well, but this is causing me huge concern.
“I have been in recovery for 18 months and am genuinely very concerned that if my support is stopped and methadone is difficult for me to get, I will find myself turning to street drugs. This is the last thing I want to happen, but right now I’m very unclear about what is happening.”
Acting Social Development MEC Panyaza Lesufi visited them on Saturday. “We will have a meeting with the different stakeholders to address their concerns,” he said.
Lesufi said he wanted to suss out the situation and get a feel of it before giving feedback and addressing the problem. “Our view is that you don’t have to force people into doing something; you have to respect their dignity. You might know they are homeless, but they still have rights and still have dignity,” Lesufi said.
“So I said to the team let’s ensure that we have facilities that can be ready to accommodate them. But if people come there, they come voluntarily.”
Lesufi said the police and army should not be used to force homeless people to move into shelters. “I really feel that it doesn’t belong in a democratic state.”
Meanwhile, City of Tshwane spokesperson Selby Bokaba said: “We are managing them in such a way that we’re minimising any potential risk of contracting or spreading the virus.”
He said the metro was expecting more homeless people to be accommodated at various shelters.
“We are searching for them. Some run away when they see us. But we will round them up across the city and take them to the Caledonian Stadium.”