Category Archives: Lynette Johns

Cape Argus: Cops arrest scores of homeless people

Cops arrest scores of homeless people


Police have arrested hundreds of homeless people over the past five months in what they and city officials have described as a crackdown on “repeat offenders”.

But homeless people say police are harrassing them because they want them off the streets ahead of the World Cup.

The City of Cape Town and police have denied the claim.

‘They don’t want the people from overseas to see us and make South Africa look bad.’

Police spokesman Captain Ezra October confirmed the arrest yesterday of 41 homeless people.

The city unveiled its Winter Readiness Plan for Street People this month, saying it wanted to reunite street people with their families.
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Apart from issuing thousands of blankets, razors, soap, blankets and even toothpaste, the city also promised to create temporary jobs paying R40 a shift.

The city identified “high-risk areas” to be targeted for this year’s campaign, including Green Point, the Grand Parade, Cape Town Station, Long Street, the Company’s Garden, Adderley Street, Buitenkant Street and Gardens Centre. With police assistance, the city would clamp down on antisocial behaviour such as begging, harassing people, doing washing in public, drunken behaviour and skarreling (hustling). The budget allocation for the campaign was increased from R300 000 last year to R500 000 this year.

October said that the police had been involved in an “intelligence driven operation” to arrest “known criminals” in the city over the past five months.

The 41 people arrested – who sleep under the Culemborg bridge, in parks and alleyways in the CBD – have been labelled by the police as “repeat offenders”.

October could not give a figure for how many people had been arrested since January, but said it was not unusual to make so many arrests in one day.

He said the suspects faced charges of theft out of motor vehicles and robbery and would appear in the community court in Cape Town soon.

October said the arrested people, aged between 18 and 41, were not “real” street people, even though he conceded that they returned to the streets after being released.

And it was precisely because they were returning that the police had the right to use legislation to force them to leave, he said.

Yesterday homeless people spoke of what they claimed was ongoing harassment by the police in the run-up to the World Cup.

Last year, a city pilot project under its Housing Allocation Policy saw the relocation of about 80 families from Sea Point to a temporary relocation area in Blikkiesdorp, near Delft.

Many were promised jobs and told their only option was to move to the area or face arrest.

One man said most of them still travelled to Sea Point every day, looking for work or to beg.

“I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been arrested there. They tell us they arrest us for ‘failure to comply’. We don’t even know what that means. They were always like this, but now with this World Cup, things became very bad for us.”

A woman said she had slept behind the Cape Town Stadium before she was moved by police.

“…They don’t want the people from overseas to see us and make South Africa look bad. Go look in Green Point and Sea Point, you will struggle to see one person sleeping on that street. People are scared.”

One man, who had been moved to Blikkiesdorp but spent last night in Green Point, said he was constantly harrassed by police.

“We are also South African citizens. They don’t want the tourists to see how people also live here in South Africa.

“Now they want to sweep clean the area, arrest us and take us to the cells. Then they took us Blikkiesdorp and they dumped us there like pigs.”

Head of the Haven Night Shelter, Hassan Khan, said he had heard of police harassing homeless people, but he said none of their field workers had received complaints from the homeless.

Grant Pascoe, mayoral committee member for social development, said the city’s winter readiness plan was an ongoing process. Last year, about 1 600 people were sheltered and fed.

“There is nothing inhumane about what the city is doing. We had beefed up our plan this year. But there is no plan to round up homeless people and dump them. It’s simply untrue.”

JP Smith, the city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, slammed the allegations that homeless people had been forced to move to Blikkiesdorp or that they were being targeted.

“This was not a forced removal; they are free are to return to Sea Point as some of them have done. If they are unhappy there, they can leave.”

* This article was originally published on page 1 of Cape Argus on May 20, 2010