Last year, Penny Sparrow made her debut on Facebook and we all know how that ended. The truth is views like that are never isolated or simply exaggerated because of its publication on social media. Over the weekend, Shayne Ramsay, a Democratic Alliance councillor in the City of Cape Town, for Ward 54, which is broadly the Sea Point and Atlantic Seaboard region, took to Facebook against what she described as “grime and crime”, although this was the usual attack on homelessness and poverty that we have witnessed over the years. Shayne would later delete that post some time between Saturday and Sunday. The entire incident would probably be assigned as being “unfortunate” instead of accepting that it was actually laced with prejudice, racism and hatred. Very proudly, Shayne indicated that last week she had met with residents in Sea Point, Mayco members, staff in the City and her colleagues, about “vagrancy in Sea Point”. Shayne goes on her post on her public profile to unveil her solution to “vagrancy”.
It should be reassuring to constituents in Ward 54 that their councillor is so hard at work to confront the plague of homelessness and poverty, especially when she is so diligent at seeking to police the issue away from their collective eyesight. However, South Africans should be deeply troubled that people like Shayne hold public office since the offensive views shared in her Facebook post are not isolated but are reflective of shared values and views. We cannot deal with the issue of homelessness and poverty by using security and police but the City of Cape Town, the rise of groups such as the Central Improvement Districts, and private security are geared to police our spaces and to confine poverty to some far away place.
Shayne would like us to believe that homeless people are people too and that they can broadly be categorised into three categories – “criminals (who are in and out of overcrowded prisons), mentally ill or social outcasts, and those who are genuinely down on their luck”.
I guess Shayne is prone to stigmatising the mentally ill and vulnerable, who are struggling to reintegrate into communities after hardship. I suppose it is easy to do so when those people are not invited to your meetings and discussions and so their views and lived realities never are factored into your thinking. This is the type of public service that is so dangerous and repugnant in our country.
The mockery of all of this is that Ward 54 uses the two social workers, in the employ of the City I presume, and at the expense of our collective public purse, to “profile” this vulnerable group, and I suppose to use private security and police to chase them out of town because the people of Sea Point demand that those who enter their land must do so on their rules and not the Constitution that affords all fundamental rights and not just the Ward 54 residents. After all, in Shayne’s earlier version of this post, she would say, “our garbage bins are treated as buffet tables” but that would be expunged.
Frighteningly, the politics of fear, hatred and privilege comes through even more from Shayne and she confirms to her choir that she will be taking this fight to the Council chambers so that homelessness can be policed more effectively. Our Constitution is apparently too “liberal” and so “there is not much that SAPS can do to control vagrants” and so Shayne will be pushing her repugnant agenda by seeking to change the City’s by-laws so that vagrants can be controlled as another category of people.
A rushed apology and retraction also does not confront the broader policy that is implemented across the City. Shayne’s words issued on her page, expunged of the offensive comment, ring hollow when she states that her views do not represent the views or “the values of the City of Cape Town or the party I represent, the DA”. Those are words rushed to deal with the nightmare of being exposed and called out as being a racist and do not deal with the broader tendency in the City to police and confine poverty and homelessness. We should not allow this glossing over to take place.
We may be outraged now but we need to focus our energies and effort to resist any attempt by Shayne to introduce draconian by-laws, rooted in fear and hatred, so that people can be policed and handled so that their presence can be managed with her own version of the dompas that was used by the apartheid regime. I suppose our liberal Constitution is an unnecessary instrument if the residents of Ward 54 are being inconvenienced by the abject poverty that has a stranglehold over South Africa. We must resist any attempt by Shayne, and her colleagues, to review the “Streets and Public Places” by-law because to allow this will perpetuate the politics of fear and hatred that far too many elected officials are allowed to play in.
Shayne’s crusade against the vulnerable, homelessness and poverty does not stop there. No, she is far too committed to her twisted crusade and so she will be launching a march on December 6 “against grime”. But Shayne does not want us to get confused and think that this march is targeted against homeless people or the vulnerable. Instead this march is against “grime and crime”, which presupposes that all of the “unwanted” must be guilty of that sin in the twilight zone that is Shayne’s Ward 54.
It is not enough for us to be outraged and we must make sure that this elected official is held accountable. Tragically, the views of people like Shayne have been allowed to take root despite our past history of displacement, prejudice, victimisation, stigmatisation and fear. Our outrage must be directed not simply against Shayne and people like her but to ensure that she is held accountable for peddling fear and hatred. DM