Homeless people in Cape Town are continuously being harassed and arrested by authorities, who confiscate their possessions and fine them R100.
Social workers and officials at Somerset Night Shelter discovered this on Thursday morning, when they handed out blankets and food parcels as part of their homeless people outreach programme.
The shelter’s manager Wayne Spammer said that they were shocked when homeless people in nearby Somerset West had shown them letters stating that they must pay a fine of R100. If they failed to pay, they would have to appear in a community court for loitering.
Spammer said about six homeless people told them they spent Wednesday night in a police cell and were later released on Thursday morning on a fine of R100.
He said the homeless people informed social workers that authorities had raided their belongings, threw them in the van and took them to a nearby police station.
“These guys are homeless. They get picked up and fined R100 – where will they get the money to pay the fine? There were a lot of them who were picked up. We only spoke to six of them but they said there were much more of them,” said Spammer.
In Cape Town’s Hope Street near Parliament, some other homeless people related their experiences and confirmed that they too were harassed and arrested by City of Cape Town law enforcement officials and South African Police Services (SAPS) officials.
Ramees Jansen, 28, had been living mainly in Hope Street for 15 years. He was forced to live on the street after his parents died and family members in Mitchell’s Plain sold their family home.
He said law enforcemet officials made their lives unbearable.
“Every second day they confiscate our belongings and put us in a van. We never see our belongings again. They take us to the police and the following morning we appear in a community court where they give us four hours community service work,” said Jansen, a father of one.
He said if they were caught more than four times they were then sentenced to seven days imprisonment at Pollsmoor prison.
During numerous police raids, Jansen had lost his Identity Document (ID) and was unable to raise the required amount to replace it.
He said early in the morning they are awoken by police raids and thrown into the van, “they swear at us and load us in the van”.
“They open a case against us they give us a paper saying it’s a nuisance by law they are enforcing. At the end of the day we understand. What we don’t understand is why don’t they call us and tell us nicely they just come and arrest us and put us in a police cell,” said Jansen.
Lawrence Ndakrokra, 21, has been staying on the street since 1998.
Ndakrokra said his mother had fled from her abusive husband and they found themselves living on the street. Growing up there had not been easy.
“Police come during the night when we are sleeping; it’s like they are kidnapping us,” said Ndakrokra.
He said when they wanted to open up cases against some police officers for violations of their rights, police officers refused, saying they could not open cases against their work “colleagues”.
“Any corner you’re you being targeted (by authorities). Wherever we walk we’re in the eye (of the authorities),” he said.
Regarding the Somerset West incident Western Cape Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut said the City of Cape Town did not arrest any “vagrant person” but it was the Somerset West SAPS that had a tracing operation where “we brought in more than 20 people who were a nuisance on the streets for questioning and screening for outstanding warrant of arrests”.
“The CBD of Somerset West is a ‘hotspot’ for business robberies, street robberies, burglary business, theft out of and theft of motor vehicles,” said Traut.
People who were arrested for being public nuisances were people recently released from prison.
“Nine of the people who were arrested were people with outstanding warrants of arrests issued in various areas, and two had outstanding fines which they failed to pay and were taken back to court the next day.
“Seven people were released on a J534 to pay a fine of R100. Although it’s senseless we know that the Court will withdraw these cases,” Traut said. —Peter Luhanga