South Africa

TO THE POLLS

Cape Town CBD: Homelessness an election priority, but the word appears to not filter down on the streets

Cape Town CBD: Homelessness an election priority, but the word appears to not filter down on the streets
A view of the City of Cape Town taken outside the Cape Town Civic Centre during municipal by-elections on 9 December 2020. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Six parties contested for the Green Point City Centre ward 115 in one of 24 by-elections that took place across the country on Wednesday, 9 December. This by-election comes after the former ward councillor, Dave Bryant, stepped down for a position in Parliament. Owing to the ward’s vast geographical range, residents of Green Point City Centre vary in socio-economic circumstances but the looming issue on the ground is the neglect of the city’s homeless.

The streets surrounding the Civic Centre were bustling on Wednesday. The area is diverse, multicultural and sprawling with local businesses. The ward’s range – which includes Green Point, the Waterfront, CBD, Grande Parade, Woodstock, Zonnebloem and Salt River – is as sundry as the city itself. The same can be said of the issues facing the residents of this ward — illegal dumping, unsanitary environments, unaffordable housing and rampant crime. Most noticeable is the issue of urban homelessness.

Just outside the Civic Centre where residents were voting for a new councillor to tackle these issues, sit two homeless people.  *Nurrunesa Samuels, 40, and Ibrahiem Samuels, 42, are at the forefront of many of the local politicians’ missions but these two have no idea that the by-elections are taking place. “I don’t even know what you are talking about,” says Nurrunesa.

“We don’t even know what is happening in our own country because we don’t have money to buy newspapers or watch the TV. We don’t even know about the rules that are going on [surrounding] Covid-19,” she said.

Nurrunesa says that one of the main problems for street dwellers is access to medical care. “The real issue here [in the city centre] is the medical access… There is no medical attention for us in hospital. We get thrown away, almost like out of society because we are heroin addicts and live on the streets. The main thing is that we don’t get any attention.”

The pair said that authorities appear to have forgotten that people are still battling with AIDS and TB on the streets, even with Covid-19 around. “People are dying here [on the streets] from TB and AIDS,” Ibrahiem added, claiming that he has seen at least one dead person on the streets per week in recent months.

A ‘safe seat’ for the DA

Elections analyst Wayne Sussman indicated in Daily Maverick that the election would be “a safe DA” seat. But since the national elections last year,  the ANC has seen growing support in the ward, specifically in the Zonnebloem (District Six) area, says Delmaine Cottee, ANC regional executive committee member who was monitoring elections at the Civic Centre.

Regional executive committee member for the ANC, Delmaine Cottee, outside the Cape Town Civic Centre voting station, on 9 December 2020 (Photo: Victoria O’Regan).

Sussman writes that the ANC almost doubled in support on the provincial ballot in Green Point City Centre ward. 

Other parties contesting for the ward include Good, EFF, Al Jamah-ah, Cape Town Party and Democratic Independent Party (DIP). 

Wendy Mafuduka, an EFF monitor helping at the party’s stand outside the Civic Centre, conceded that the chance of the EFF winning the by-election was low. “It is a by-the-way election [for the EFF],” Mafaduka says. “We do know who is going to win [the DA]. We are here for the one percent that will vote for us,” she said.

One of the EFF assistants from the Langa Ward, Wendy Mafuduka. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Whoever wins the by-election vote, the new councillor would need to address the previously poor DA management of how homeless people in the area were treated during the hard lockdown, says voter Elizabeth Coetzee, 75, who has been living in De Waterkant since 2010. Coetzee said that it has always been a “wonderful life to live in the city where it feels civilised….  [But] during Covid-19 I discovered the worst of it. The street people didn’t have anywhere to go.

Elizabeth Coetzee, a resident of De Waterkant in the City of Cape Town, about to cast her ballot at the Cape Town Civic Centre polling station on Wednesday 9 December 2020. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

“They have been in tremendous situations during these periods of hard lockdown,” she says.

“I hear that [Ian McMahon, ward 115 DA candidate] has made provision [for homeless people],” said Coetzee. “I hope that that is his first priority. I hope that that is what he will do.” 

McMahon, the DA councillor running for this ward, told Daily Maverick that the issue of urban homelessness, vagrancy and affordable housing in the city is at the top of his top priority list.

Ian McMahon, DA candidate for the Ward 115 by-election in the City of Cape Town, pictured outside the Cape Town Civic Centre voting station, on 9 December 2020. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

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