‘They took us by surprise’: Sea Point homeless left out in the cold after City of Cape Town confiscates tents
Sea Point street dwellers were without shelter when it rained on Monday night after city officials carried out an allegedly illegal eviction. At short notice, tents were taken down and people’s belongings were confiscated.
“They caught us off guard,” said Edwin Kelebone, one of 21 street dwellers whose home was destroyed and belongings confiscated when City of Cape Town law enforcement officials conducted a raid at “Tent City”, an informal homeless camp outside the Green Point Tennis Club on Monday.
“We didn’t get any warning or nothing.”
According to witnesses, law enforcement officials from Cape Town, rather than Sea Point — with whom Tent City residents have an amicable relationship — arrived between 11am and 1pm and instructed occupiers to remove their possessions before they dismantled tents and confiscated personal belongings.
The community has been dwelling on a piece of vacant land next to the tennis courts for the past year.
The land is being leased by the city to a sports management company, Empext, which runs the Green Point Tennis Club. The owner, Tony Loubser, said he had been unaware that the evictions would take place.
Loubser said that earlier this year Empext had begun, then halted the process of getting the Tent City residents evicted, as after consulting with stakeholders they decided to find humane alternatives to evictions.
“We thought we would rather make an attempt at meaningful engagement,” he said. “That process is still ongoing for us. We are engaging with institutions that can provide the homeless with accommodation, but it’s a complex issue.”
Loubser said he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place because the company needs to fulfil its lease obligations or risks losing the property, but at the same time wants the homeless to be treated with dignity.
The courts will be developed into a multi-sport precinct with facilities including five-a-side soccer pitches.
Loubser said the presence of the tent dwellers had, unfortunately, resulted in several social “ills”.
“For example there’s drug use in the full view of the public, defecation in the street, littering, fights, somebody has died there. All of this has happened while we have teenagers on the court.
“People have disposed of syringes on the court, which exposed the players to harm.”
The evictions and confiscations of belongings happened hours after an official from the provincial Department of Social Development came to take down the names and details of residents at Tent City.
They were told they would be placed in shelters, but were apparently not informed about the pending raid.
Residents say only two to four people were accommodated at the Safe Space shelter under the Culemborg bridge, while the rest were left to fend for themselves.
Tasneem Hoosain, a field worker for the NGO Souper Troopers, was angered that the city had carried out the evictions without making alternative housing plans.
“If the government doesn’t provide any sort of facilities for the clients, where will they go?”
When Daily Maverick visited the area on Tuesday afternoon, a handful of homes remained. Bits of plastic, bottles, flattened cardboard and other items littered the ground. Some street dwellers who hadn’t left the area were rebuilding shelters from scraps of whatever they could find.
Some residents were absent when the raid took place and had vital documentation such as identity documents, driving licences, clinic and medication cards taken.
Oscar Kalama, who was in the CBD when the raid began, returned to scenes of chaos and found his tent and his possessions, which included medication for a stomach infection, had been loaded on to a trailer.
“I went to speak to one of the captains and I asked them to give me my tablets, [but] they said there’s nothing they can do,” said Kalama.
Ndifuna Ukwazi law centre is approaching the Western Cape High Court on an urgent basis for an order directing the city to return the confiscated belongings.
The NPO says the city carried out an unlawful eviction as it failed to produce a court order.
“This shocking act of brutality is in direct conflict with the Constitution and the Prevention of Illegal Eviction From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998 (PIE Act), which mandates that a court order considering all relevant circumstances must be granted before an eviction can be executed, as well as a nation-wide moratorium on evictions imposed in response to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic in terms of the Disaster Management Act Regulations,” Ndifuna Ukwazi wrote in a press statement.
The city filed its answering affidavit on Tuesday evening.
Law enforcement officials allegedly physically and verbally assaulted some residents. Valencia Lewis said she was attacked and threatened with arrest when she tried to protect her tent.
On a “confiscation notice” given to the homeless residents, it is written that their possessions can be fetched from Ndabeni, roughly 12km from where they were taken.
“How can we afford to go there to fetch our things?” asked Kalama.
Law enforcement issued R300 fines for “intentionally blocking, interfering with the safe or free passage of a pedestrian or vehicle in a public place”, according to the municipal by-law relating to Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances.
The by-law is being challenged in court.
Paul Hibbert, who has been diagnosed with emphysema and tuberculosis, slept outside in the rain on Monday night after the tent he and his twin brother Sean slept in was taken.
“I was soaking wet. Some guys came and gave us plastics to cover ourselves,” said Paul.
Hibbert, who also cares for his two pet dogs, feels betrayed by the city, especially since Mayor Dan Plato had visited the area roughly a month ago to express his care and compassion for the homeless
“He should have told us that day we must go; we can’t stay here any more.”
When Daily Maverick approached the City of Cape Town for comment, the response was: “The City received correspondence regarding this matter and requested certain information on allegations made. The City will assess its position once it receives the information. The City’s rights remain reserved.” DM