Watch: Cops and homeless clash

Image via Twitter: Brett Herron

Watch: Cops and homeless clash at Strandfontein ‘concentration camp’

The City of Cape Town has been criticised for its ‘inhumane’ treatment of the homeless.

Watch: Cops and homeless clash

Image via Twitter: Brett Herron

Hundreds of homeless citizens, who have resisted the move to a Strandfontein lockdown camp, clashed violently with law enforcement agencies on Tuesday.

The Strandfontein Sports Grounds, on the outskirts of Cape Town, have been converted into a makeshift camp for the homeless. Large marquee tents dot the coastal fields, intended to house the city’s destitute during a time of lockdown. Since the beginning of April, a fleet of buses have been chartered to transport homeless citizens from various parts of Cape Town to the Strandfontein site.

The transition for the homeless has been anything but easy.

In addition to the fierce outcry from Strandfontein residents, who claim they were not informed about the City of Cape Town’s plan to erect tents as temporary housing for the homeless, law enforcement officers have had their hands full trying to keep the destitute ‘penned in’.

Conditions at Strandfontein camp condemned

Allegations of abuse, unsanitary and inhumane conditions have marred the City’s ‘rehousing’ project. According to a GroundUp report, the grim camp set-up does little to accommodate social distancing and, worse still, is hopelessly under resourced to provide adequate healthcare.

Cold temperatures and recent rains which have drenched the area have done little to improve morale.

On Tuesday, tensions at the Strandfontein camp exploded when a group of homeless citizens attempted to leave the site and its ‘inhumane’ living conditions. Cape Town Law Enforcement officers, assisted by members of the South African Police Service (SAPS), refused to let the homeless leave the camp. This standoff quickly escalated.

The homeless, hell-bent on exiting the camp, proceeded to break down a barrier fence. As a result, law enforcement officers opened fire on the group with rubber bullets. In retaliation, the group of dissenters pelted officers and vehicles with stones.

‘Nobody leaves’ says JP Smith

Mayco Member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, explained that a group of homeless citizens had initially believed that the Strandfontein site would only be used for screening. This misunderstanding, according to Smith, was the primary reason for the uprising. Smith reiterated:

“While some of the group has since indicated that they will remain on site, the City would like to make it clear that, according to SAPS, any person who leaves the site will be in violation of the national lockdown regulations and will be dealt with accordingly.”

‘The city should be ashamed’ says former DA member

Former Democratic Alliance (DA) member, Brett Heron — who, in 2018, defected to Patricia de Lille’s GOOD Party — conducted a site visit to the Strandfontein sports field earlier this week and described it as a ‘concentration camp’. Heron called on the City of Cape Town to immediately investigate suitable contingency plans and site better fit for human accommodation, saying:

“DA Mayor Plato has created a humanitarian crisis at Strandfontein on outskirts of Cape Town. This is a horrific concentration camp on a cold wet coastal sports field. It is not suitable for human habitation and definitely not in large dark tents with no mattresses or blankets.

The City should be ashamed at its opportunistic abuse of the coronavirus pandemic to forcibly remove homeless people from city and suburban environs and dump them on the Strandfontein sports ground.”

Despite the outcry, JP Smith has noted that the project will continue for the duration of the lockdown. The camp, currently occupied by a few hundred homeless, is constructed to accommodate 4 000 people.