City of Cape Town to remove homeless people from city centre

The dozens of people occupying land near the Castle of Good Hope are some of the people who will be evicted if they have not vacated by month end. All photos by Chris Gilili

“We believe that this decision will only further marginalize and traumatize an already vulnerable population”
– Homeless Action Coalition

Over 200 homeless people living on the streets of the Cape Town CBD are set to be evicted by the end of this month. But, they don’t want to go to any shelter or safe space. Their imminent eviction follows a court order obtained by the city last month from the High Court, which gives them permission to remove homeless people from several sites in the CBD. 

Civil society organisations advocating for the rights of the homeless have expressed concern over this action. Anda Mazantsana, from the Homeless Action Coalition, said they were deeply concerned about the court order that would result in the eviction of over 200 people living on the streets of Cape Town. “We believe that this decision will only further marginalise and traumatise an already vulnerable population. To assist the homeless people who will be affected by the court order, we plan to work with various stakeholders, including government agencies, civil society organisations, and local communities, to provide support and resources to those facing eviction,” Mazantsana told Elitsha

This includes working to identify alternative accommodation options, providing legal assistance, and advocating for policies that protect the rights of homeless individuals. According to Mazantsana, the City of Cape Town can better address the issue of homelessness through a multi-sectoral approach that involves prevention strategies, increased affordable housing options, improved access to mental health and substance abuse services. “While the so-called ‘safe spaces’ proposed by the City of Cape Town may provide temporary relief for some homeless individuals, we do not believe they are a long-term solution to the systemic issues that lead to homelessness. These spaces must be accompanied by comprehensive services and support to help individuals transition from homelessness to permanent housing and stability,” he explained. 

Betty Jantjies making a fire to cook outside her makeshift shelter. She is one of a number of homeless people staying in an open space on Hope Street, behind the St Mary Cathedral in Cape Town. 

We’re better off in the streets than shelters

‘These safe spaces are not safe’

Elitsha spoke to some of the homeless people living on the streets of Cape Town CBD, who declared that they will not be going to stay at any homeless shelters, or safe spaces. Shamielah du Toit has been staying on the streets of Cape Town for the past 20 years and currently lives in a makeshift structure behind St Mary’s Cathedral in Cape Town. She has TB and is on treatment. “These safe spaces are not safe and are poorly managed. I believe I am safer on the road than inside there. We don’t want to go there because it’s unpleasant; we are not free to eat the food we want, and also they are very strict. We cannot even hustle for ourselves, and make a living properly in these safe spaces,” said du Toit. “These spaces are just a temporary measure, and some of them are as good as being on the streets. We need a permanent solution for ourselves. I am much better off here,” she added. 

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Brendan Louw, originally from Manenberg in the Cape Flats, told Elitsha that he has stayed on the streets for the past 28 years. He said gangsterism pushed him away from home. “I decided to come and live on the streets, due to gangsterism and poverty in the Cape Flats. I feel much safer in town, as opposed to home. And I have something to eat most days. We don’t know where we will go if the city chases us off the streets … I feel sad about this, because even the safe spaces are crowded and they are not a solution. We are forced to be sleeping by 8pm, and they do random searches on us,” said Louw.

Living on the street is tough, he said, and they are there because they don’t have anywhere else to go. The homeless are stigmatised and frequent victims of law enforcement brutality.

Brendan Louw, originally from Manenberg in the Cape Flats, sitting inside his makeshift shelter. He says he has stayed on the streets for over 28 years, and prefers his freedom and autonomy to the misnamed ‘safe space’ of a homeless shelter.

Norman Chawapiwa, originally from Zimbabwe, is one of the homeless people who has occupied a piece of land outside the Castle of Good Hope. “I used to live in Wellington, working in the farms there. This was about nine years ago, however in 2022 I moved to Cape Town with a friend to seek a better life. I am a skilled carpenter, but have struggled to find jobs. That is why I ended up staying on the streets. Life outside here is very difficult, I survive by collecting cans. There is also a government organisation, near parliament, where we go every 5pm to get a meal for supper,” said Chawapiwa. 

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High Court acting judge MJ Bishop noted that the eviction application sought by the city concerned some of the most vulnerable members of society. “People living on the pavements of downtown Cape Town, the conditions in which they live are deplorable. They live next to busy roads in tents or structures constructed of plastic sheets and cardboard. They are compelled to live their lives in public, with little or no privacy. They struggle for food, for shelter, and for warmth,” reads his judgment. The judge also emphasised that the court order is made on condition that the City of Cape Town fulfills its duty towards homeless people. 

“The City has a duty to these people. It is irrefutable that the State is obliged to take positive action to meet the needs of those living in extreme conditions of poverty, homelessness or intolerably inadequate housing. It has a duty to remedy their conditions of living, to take reasonable steps to realize their right to housing, and to ensure they can live lives with dignity and privacy,” the judge ordered.

Norman lives by collecting and selling cans.

Go to a shelter or you’ll be removed

The City has come to the defense of its action. “The court order indicates that any remaining unlawful occupants may be evicted from the sites after 30 July. The City’s offer still stands for anyone who requires Safe Space, dignified transitional shelter and social assistance to leave the streets,” the City said in its response.

Their approach to helping people off the streets is social developmental. “City Safe Spaces offer social programmes to assist people off the streets sustainably, reintegrate them into society, and reunite them with family. Personal development planning and employment opportunities are made available, as are referrals for mental health, medical, and substance abuse treatment.”

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About Chris Gilili 70 Articles
Chris Gilili, a 23 year old freelance journalist based in East London. Graduated from Walter Sisulu University media studies school in 2015. Had a stint with Independent Media, in sports writing. Passionate about news and the media.