By Anees Teladia
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) plans to investigate the City of Cape Town’s (CoCT) bylaws and test them against the country’s Constitution. There has been a widespread public outcry against the City recently, after it was revealed that homeless people were being “targeted” and fined for violating bylaws – bylaws which are arguably difficult not to violate when homeless.
“The commission has received quite a number of complaints over the last two years. A month and a half ago, we met with some of the CoCT officials and said to them that we observe aggressive behaviour toward homeless people. We also said to them that we’d like to interrogate their bylaws,” said SAHRC commissioner, Chris Nissen.
“I have seen how people have had their stuff picked up, loaded onto bakkies and then removed from areas. A week and a half ago, people came to us and said that they had been fined. Yesterday morning I went out early and engaged people…the City was fining people about R350.”
“The question is: how are the homeless going to pay? They’re on the streets because of their circumstances – they don’t have money.”
Nissen was dismayed at the apparent targeting of homeless people by the City and was sceptical of the even application of these bylaws.
Appalled at the recent reports, Nissen suggests that the City is acting insensitively – especially considering that such harsh action is being taken against the homeless during the winter months.
“You will never wish away homeless people. Not everybody can afford a hotel room or an apartment,” argued Nissen.
“These bylaws aren’t applied in the townships. They are only applied in the suburbs and in the CBD (central business district).”
Nissen said that the SAHRC would look at national policies and frameworks on how to deal with issues relating to homelessness and people on the streets.
“Homelessness is not a Cape Town or South African issue – it’s worldwide and there are best models throughout the world as to how to deal with homelessness. How do you, in the middle of winter, start demolishing the only things people have in terms of a little bit of comfort?”
While the City has made an effort to address homelessness in some positive ways, the recent actions taken and the statements that have been made, reflect a poor attitude toward the homeless, explained Nissen.
“There are not enough spaces and shelters. More people have come onto the streets because of economic and other social conditions. They are forced to live on the street – people are forced by circumstances.”
The Western Cape office of the SAHRC will be meeting with CoCT officials and Mayor Dan Plato.
“Homeless people have rights!”