[imagesource: David Harrison/M&G]
It didn’t take long for those housed at the City of Cape Town-run Strandfontein ‘homeless village’, or relocation camp as some have dubbed it, to voice their displeasure at the living conditions.
Within a matter of days, there were violent clashes at the Strandfontein Sports Grounds between the homeless and police, when rubber bullets were met with rocks and stones.
Complaints about the conditions at the site have continued, and now the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC) has completed an investigation report into the matter.
As the Daily Maverick reports, SAHRC was far from impressed, saying “the site is in gross violation of national and international human rights and must be closed down with immediate effect”:
[The report] makes for a sad read: inadequate social distancing, limited access to healthcare, including for pre- and post-natal care and allegations of sexual assaults…
Men and women were sleeping in the same tents. While there were women who wanted to stay with their partners, “there were other women who did not wish to be sleeping in the same room as so many men”, wrote Dr Orla Maya Stern, who looked at issues of gender within the camp.
Bathroom facilities were not up to standard — there was no clear distinction between female and male toilets.
Both of these present a clear security risk, and people have spoken about feeling unsafe, both inside their tents and around the site.
When it comes to health issues, Dr Gilles van Cutsem wrote that “rather than being a place of safety, the shelter exposes vulnerable people to further harm”.
His part of the report highlights that no medical staff are on-site between 4PM and 8AM the following day, and residents who need medical assistance are often left waiting.
There is also no ongoing screening for COVID-19:
“Several residents observed had signs and symptoms of respiratory diseases including cough, shortness of breath and myalgia. Several residents observed required medical care, but were not receiving it,” the doctor said in the report.
In addition, he reported that several residents complained about chronic medication that had been interrupted as they could not access this at the clinic.
In mitigation, Dr Duncan Laurenson, who also worked on the report, noted that there were areas of the site that they were unable to inspect, such as the isolation tent, and that some of the services lacking “appear to be related to delays in the arrival of service delivery in the first few days, rather than a denial of access”.
The DA has come under fire for conditions at the site, with Cape Town mayor Dan Plato responding:
“When political parties started campaigning against the Strandfontein temporary emergency accommodation site, I called on them to please have some respect and work with us. Instead, they have continued to politicise a national pandemic for personal political gain.”
That response is unlikely to garner much sympathy from critics.
The South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) has also highlighted that visits from media personnel need to be prearranged, and are not allowed unless permission has been granted by the City’s Safety and Security directorate.
This has led many to wonder what is being hidden.
Ensuring the safety of Cape Town’s homeless population was always going to be a difficult task, but when the SAHRC talks about “gross violation of national and international human rights”, some tough questions must be asked.
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