Cape Town's homeless on why they stay on the streets

02Dec 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Cape Town's homeless on why they stay on the streets

A Sea Point DA councillor who tried to organise a "march against grime" was forced to cancel it and apologise following a public backlash.

"Since they rely on our handouts for their existence, if you stop giving to beggars, street people and car guards, they will move elsewhere," councillor Shayne Ramsay wrote on Facebook on the weekend.

Ramsay had intended to hold the march on Tuesday night. She invited police and the city’s security to join the protest, and for participants to wear a white top or T-shirt "to stand out in the dark and in the theme of cleanliness".

'No option but the streets'
Leslie Skelder, 32, lives on the streets of Wynberg. "I have so far tried twice to build a shack in Bonnytoun but it was destroyed by the city's law enforcement," she told GroundUp. "This leaves me with no option but to come back in the streets." Bonnytoun is an informal settlement between the M5 and Rosmead Avenue, behind a dumping site in Wynberg.

"They come at unexpected times and destroy our makeshift homes. I lost my ID during these raids and it is difficult to get one," says Skelder. She tries to warm or prepare food in a makeshift home.

"I have health issues. Every month I have to visit the hospital for medical check-ups and after that I need to feed myself properly, but if I have no roof? I do not know how they want me to survive."

Originally from Eersterivier, she has been living in Wynberg, homeless or in a shack, since the age of 13. Margie Matthews, 62, knows what it means to sleep outdoors. Conditions are bad, especially in winter.

Although she now lives in a shack in Bonnytoun, she used to live on the streets. She knew homeless people who died in her area over the past decade. Some of them were her friends. She became homeless at the age of 25. She used to stay in Mutual Estate with her parents.

"After the death of my mother I could not stand the heat from my stepmother, so I decided to move away." Matthews wants the City of Cape Town to do more to accommodate homeless people.

"I know all the street corners and under-the-bridge places in Wynberg. Every morning my friends and I scraped for food in bins. At times law enforcement will come and take away our belongings and destroy our makeshift shelters which we call homes."

There was a backlash against Ramsay’s comments. Daily Maverick reporter Marianne Thamm called it "a brand of fascism" in a tweet.

Zackie Achmat, director of Ndifuna Ukwazi, tweeted: "Sea Point [DA] councillor @shayneramsay is organising a march to harass 'homeless' 'criminal' 'retards' read Black people wearing White." Ramsay deleted the post and wrote an apology on Facebook.

"I unreservedly apologise to everyone I offended, particularly the homeless South Africans in Cape Town. The march planned is now cancelled." Most of the people who left comments on Ramsay’s page were not impressed.

Becca Marcus wrote: "[T]hank you for doing the right thing by apologising for your words and cancelling the disturbing and hateful 'March against grime'.

"An apology isn't sufficient however, a change in attitude and political direction is. Please use your position to work for those in Sea Point who really, desperately need support.

Let the work begin to actually find ways to support those in Sea Point without fixed abode, those at risk of evictions and harassment, as opposed to hateful speech and forced removals in this city with a devastating past of forced removals."

Asked for comment, Ramsay said: "I am overwhelmed, ashamed, embarrassed and I have put out a statement of regret." She referred GroundUp to a DA spokesperson for further comment. No comment had been obtained from the party by the time of publication.

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