Cruel and heartless action by City of Cape Town

The demolition of structures in Hangberg, Hout Bay in Cape Town angered many in what is seen as a ruthless act of cruelty.

It must take a certain level of cruelty to evict people from their shelters on a cold Cape winter’s morning. Surely, even Lady Justice, blind as she may be, would advocate some show of mercy. 

The cruel City of Cape Town decided on a wet June winter’s morning to evict and destroy the shelters of the people of Hangberg. Law enforcement officers, who would be much better suited to quell the flare-up in gang violence on the Cape Flats, were ordered to destroy the homes of people already living in dire conditions in the freezing winter weather. 

In these cases, one is never sure what is worse, the fact that the DA-led City of Cape Town destroys people’s shelters or the fact that they do not provide these people with alternative accommodation. 

Reports suggest that the City of Cape Town’s Land Invasion Unit insisted that the structures were unoccupied. Which means that while people were out, trying to survive, in the wet weather, their homes were being destroyed. How much more cold and heartless can a city’s administration be?

Twenty-two kilometres from Hangberg, Observatory resident Terna Gyuse had erected two marquees to give shelter to homeless people in the area. She admits that she was well aware that she had to apply for permission to erect the temporary structure but given that a vicious storm was brewing she thought to provide shelter first. 

Unlike the City of Cape Town, Gyuse put humans before the law and her reward was an instruction to dismantle the marquee on Observatory Common. It was city property, after all, she was reminded. 

The MAYCO (Executive Mayor & Mayoral Committee Membership) responsible, the same one responsible for the dumping of homeless people in Strandfontein and then abandoning them once the law was actually found to be on the side of the homeless, suggested that there was a political agenda at play. 

A political agenda at play for simply wanting to give temporary shelter to people exposed to the elements of the weather? 

In the Strandfonetin matter, the city lost and was ordered to relocate the homeless to a quarantine facility. Eventually, the city, despite arguing to be enforcers of the law but in the midst of lockdown restrictions, dumped the last group of homeless people at an unserviced site in Culemborg, in the CBD.

The city has yet to admit what a disaster the Strandfontein camp was and what absolute disregard the Plato administration has for the poor and destitute of Cape Town. In fact, the city had even gone to court and recently, at the eleventh hour, abandoned their application in a bid to prevent human rights monitors and non-governmental organisations from entering the camp and monitoring the human rights conditions within the camp.

If the Covid-19 pandemic should teach our public service, including those governing our municipalities, provinces and national government, anything then it must be to ensure a spirit of Batho Pele – people first. A concept originally introduced during the Mandela administration.  

Putting people at the centre of government will go far in inculcating a culture that permeates ubuntu rather than individualism. For it is individualism and self-preservation that essentially promotes corruption, inefficiency and sloth.

Across our city, people go into government institutions such as police stations, day hospitals, schools, libraries, among others, and are often confronted with public servants who put themselves and their pay-checks first before being of service to the people. 

Yet how can we expect these city or government officials, serving at the community level, to be any better when the city administration itself promotes an inhumane and cruel culture of disservice?

There are thousands of good public servants, who daily serve their communities and the people of our city. Yet it is time that these, such as the law enforcement officers ordered to undertake these irrational and cruel exercises of evicting poor people, to speak up and say: enough is enough.  

Evil thrives in our city’s administration when the good officials remain silent. 

Dr Wesley Seale taught South African politics at UWC and Rhodes University. He is a former researcher for the ANC in the Western Cape.