Call for camp’s closure

Homeless people, from areas like Culemborg and Muizenberg, are screened after they were bused in to Strandfontein sports field by the City of Cape Town this week.

Cameron Dugmore has asked Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development to close down the shelter for street people at Strandfontein sports field.

Mr Dugmore, the ANC’s leader of the official opposition in the provincial legislature, has also called for the National Command Council, established by President Cyril Ramaphosa to co-ordinate the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis, to set up an intergovernmental team to take control of the site and the development of an operational plan to house the homeless in decentralised locations across the city.

Mr Dugmore said this is not only a matter for Social Development but also for the police and the departments of Human Settlements and Water and Sanitation.

Speaking to the Plainsman yesterday, Tuesday April 14, Mr Dugmore said Ms Zulu had not responded to him directly.

Dr Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, said: “No formal interaction with the City has been made to close this facility.”

He said that City civic centres and sports fields were to be used for to help quarantine, isolate patients and as field hospitals.

He said the Cape Town International Convention Centre was being set up as a hospital with 600 beds.

Dr Badroodien said he has engaged with Mr Dugmore on social media and that they were willing to work with partners to implement a decentralised approach across the city.

Mr Dugmore’s request follows a visit to the site on Thursday April 9 along with the media, City officials, councillors, including Mayor Dan Plato, Dr Badroodien, and Jean-Pierre Smith, Mayco member for safety and security.

He was accompanied by another ANC member of the provincial legislature, Ntombezanele Gladys Bakubaku-Vos, for social development, who said rape was inevitable because of the cohabiting of men and women in the five “residents’ sites”, housing up to 600 street people in a huge event structure.

Ms Bakubaku-Vos said: “We don’t agree at all. It is a disgrace for us as a government because when we went into tents we found more than 200 people inside. There are no mattresses, some of them are sick and people are speaking for themselves. They are not happy at all and you can see the conditions they are staying in.”

She said the residents were better off back on the streets. “My worry is that there are women and men in one tent. Some of them are couples; some of them are not. Rape can happen because what do you think can happen during the nights?”

Ms Bakubaku-Vos said residents were hungry and complained about the food. “They are claiming that they were ‘skarrreling” and getting food outside but here they are eating once in the morning. That is the porridge and even that is not enough. Later on they will get bread.”

She said the street people also complained that they were given food that were off, which had upset their stomachs.

Mr Dugmore said the picture Mr Plato had sketched of how the street people were treated by officials and service providers were chalk and cheese.

He said volunteers working in the sites were not given hand sanitiser, gloves and masks. “That is disgusting. It is unacceptable to put people at that kind of risk. Also the claim that every homeless person has been screened on coming here – that is simply unbelievable. That is not what the homeless people told us at all,” he said.

A day after this visit, on Friday April 10, an 18-year-old young woman at the camp reported that she was raped on the evening of Wednesday April 8.

Western Cape police spokesman, Captain Frederick van Wyk, said the man accused of raping the teen was due to appear at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court yesterday, Tuesday April 14.

At the time of printing, Independent Online (IOL) reported that the 36-year-old man charged with the rape was granted bail of R2 000.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson, Eric Ntabazalila, said the State opposed bail, but the court set bail at R2 000 and the matter has been postponed for further investigation to Thursday May 14.

Mr Plato said law enforcement officials responded immediately, when an allegation of sexual assault was made.

“We are working with SAPS’ Family violence, Child protection and Sexual offences (FCS) Unit to investigate the allegation.”

He said any accusation of sexual assault was an incredibly sensitive matter and that the City was doing everything possible to ensure that it was handled in a manner befitting the situation.

“I find it alarming that some political parties have already seized on the opportunity to turn this into a political matter.

“I have called on the SAPS to conduct and conclude their investigation with urgency so that we can provide the facts to the public of Cape Town in an environment where half-truths and misinformation is being spread like wildfire.

“We would like to reiterate that the site at Strandfontein was set up under the instruction of the national disaster regulations published by the national government.

“We have explained the reasons for the location of the site, and we have provided an extensive list of the services that have been made available at the site.”

Mr Plato said they were further advised by experienced NGO partners who care for the homeless community that housing people in social groups would avoid unnecessary tensions.

“Despite claims to the contrary, no person is kept on-site against their will, as has been proven by the relocation of a group back to Somerset West last week.”

He said the City was going to great lengths to ensure the wellbeing of those on-site, in accordance with the regulations of the disaster declaration.

“We are working hard to address any of the shortcomings that have been identified. Municipalities across the country have had to act with little preparation time and we are doing the best we can to provide these services under a very challenging time.”

Mr Plato said one of the benefits of providing the temporary shelter was that hundreds of people have been screened for Covid-19 and tuberculosis, and those requiring medical treatment have been seen as a result.

“This might likely not have happened if they had remained on the street. The ongoing political point-scoring in a time of one of the greatest health crises to face our country, and the globe, is shameful.”

He said the malicious misinformation that was being spread was a disservice to the many organisations who have pulled together, with very little lead time, to provide this service.

“We appeal to all organisations to respect the privacy of the individual who has reported this alleged rape so that the police processes may be allowed to be concluded as quickly as possible,” he said.

Dr Badroodien confirmed to the Plainsman yesterday that there are 1 475 street people on site and that there are 2 000 mattresses – 2 000 being the facility’s maximum capacity.

He said a man died at the site of natural causes on Sunday April 5.

“All persons entering the site have been screened for Covid-19,” Dr Badroodien said.

He said 52 people had been tested, eight of whom had negative results and that the remaining 44 were in quarantine. They were in single tents, for health reasons, within the big medical tent.

“Safe to say that any positive cases will be dealt with in accordance with guidelines that have been set up for the appropriate isolation, quarantine and treatment that may be required.”

Twelve people have tested positive for TB. One has been hospitalised, in terms of stipulated criteria for hospitalisation and the rest are all stable and isolated.

Dr Badroodien said there were residents with non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

The Haven Night Shelter, Oasis Place and Ubuntu Circle of Courage are service providers on site, who had advised the City on keeping social groups together.

The City has appointed the service providers to run different sections of the temporary shelter site.

“We have further issued a call for donations to assist with the need here but also for other vulnerable groupings around the city.”

Dr Badroodien said the service providers appointed have extensive track records in the street people sector and so it stands to reason that they also have existing relationships with donors, who are able to augment their service offerings.

The City is engaging with the provincial government to assist in the administration of treatments needed to assist the street people with the multitude of substances that they may have used while on the streets.

“We are also working with NGO partners and other service providers to offer this service on site. Individuals who experience acute withdrawals are referred to the emergency rooms with the assistance of the ambulance service,” he said.

Dr Badroodien said medical services were being provided on-site.

In addition, they are working with various non-profit organisations and the appointed service providers to look at developmental plans for the people on site, which will form part of the exit strategy to connect individuals to temporary shelter after Covid-19 as well as other opportunities for up-skilling and employment.