There remains strong police and army presence at the Strandfontein Sports Grounds after a group of homeless people were involved in an altercation with police on Tuesday. About 1000 homeless people are living in a temporary shelter set up by the City of Cape Town to keep them off the streets during the 21-day lockdown, aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
Hundreds of street people were bussed into the sports complex over the past few days, where they were screened for the virus and provided meals and sanitation. Yesterday a small group, who arrived from Somerset West were allegedly misinformed that they would only be there for a COVID-19 screening. They allegedly tried to leave, when they learnt that would have to stay there. According to Ground Up, some of the homeless residents were shot at with rubber bullets by police after they began to protest about conditions at the camp. SAPS and the SANDF were deployed to scene.
“Four people jumped over the sports complex’s fence, three were caught and one escaped. When the group were picked up in Somerset West, someone told them they were going for COVID-19 testing and would go back. That was a lie. So when they were told they actually staying at the site, they got upset and this caused a riot,” said Strandfontein ward councillor Elton Jansen.
Chaos errupted in Strandfontein earlier today when unsatisified street persons hurdled the fence. This after they were transported by officials from the CBD where they were housed in tents on the foreshore under lockdown regulations. Alderman JP smith says The City can confirm that there was some conflict onsite, involving a newly arrived group of street people from Somerset West. The group were under the impression that they would be allowed to return to their areas after being screened at the site, and when it became clear that they were required to remain in Strandfontein, a few of them pulled down one of the internal fences and four climbed over the perimeter wall. Three have since been apprehended. Video: Supplied
Posted by Voice of the Cape Radio – VOC on Tuesday, 7 April 2020
While the situation has stabilised, Jansen said he would be meeting with Mayor Dan Plato and other city officials to raise the concerns on behalf of residents.
Residents are up in arms over the use of the Strandfontein sports grounds, with some accusing the City of not consulting the community. Strandfontein CPF chairperson Sandy Schuter has slammed the city for dumping the homeless in the area. She said they were informed by city officials that there would be enough law enforcement agencies to protect the inner and outer perimeters, but yet, some homeless people were still able to leave.
“We are extremely unhappy with the inhumane conditions in which the homeless people are being kept…it looks like a concentration camp. They are not in a prison that they need to be held against their will. The only reason why people escape is that they don’t want to be there,” she told VOC News.
Jansen said the proposal had been sprung on him by City officials last week and due to the lockdown, he had not had sufficient time to consult residents.
“I knew it was a bad idea. I understand this is a disaster, and things had to move fast, but my question is…why Strandfontein?”
Residents have expressed concern that the area is extremely cold due to its proximity on the coastline. Schuter has appealed to the City rethink their position.
“We want the City to take the homeless people back the communities where they come from. Open the community halls where it is warmer and where there is a decent roof and sanitation facilities. This will be easier for NGOS in the community to manage. But do not hold people against their will in area that they don’t want to be.”
Residents are also concerned about the possible exposure of homeless individuals to the coronavirus and that it could spread in the community.
“We understand that we have a crisis and we don’t want homeless people to walk around. We have our own homeless people that we are willing to look after. In the same way, other communities can look after their homeless,” added Schuter.
Schuter called on the Human Rights Commission to investigate the matter.
In a statement, the City made 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 remains committed to ensuring that street people are offered a place to stay for the duration of the lockdown, as instructed by national government, and to provide the necessary amenities. We understand that there is substantial interest in the goings-on at the site, but we deplore the attempts at sensationalism,” said Alderman JP Smith, Mayco member for Safety and Security.
“We also need to reiterate to the public that as with any undertaking as complexed as this, there will be challenges; however, the City is geared to address these in conjunction with our partner organisations.”