This week the City of Cape Town said to poor people: Go live in homeless shelters if you’re poor or if you don’t have a home. Don’t sleep on the streets. Because if you sleep on the streets we will fine you. But to get into the shelters you need R20 or R30 a night. So you need to beg on the same streets for the R30 to get into the shelter. But if you beg on the streets you also are going to get fined. And there are no or not enough jobs for people to get paid work. So basically you will get fined, and possibly imprisoned for being poor. How 1982 is that for you?
And if truth be told, probably some 80% of South Africans are 4-6 paychecks away from being in the same position - homeless. This is about all of us.
This “Donald Trumpian” approach to public leadership, governance and vulnerable people should deeply concern us. It’s not the by-law that’s the issue - it’s how those in power wish to use these laws that is the problematic part. It’s how they use old laws to pursue outdated policies and practices. For example: in regular juris prudence not every crime gets the ultimate sentence because of a host of mitigating circumstances. It’s common sense.
In this “Donald Trump School of Leadership” however, you get the the worst the law has to offer you if you’re poor. Every time.
In light of this week’s media report on the City of Cape Town’s action against the homeless community, Community Chest has called for an urgent meeting with a few initial stakeholders to discuss a legal and human rights understanding of the issue and to determine an appropriate civil society response.
We have invited the Human Rights Commission, several Shelter Managers, a lawyer and 3 other stakeholders to help us examine, interrogate and engage with the critical issues at play here and to plan a collective, coordinated response to the issues affecting vulnerable people.
The meeting is scheduled for:
Date: Monday, 8 July 2019
Time: 11:00 – 12:30pm
Venue: Community Chest Boardroom
Address: 82 Bree Street, Cape Town CBD
Following this meeting, we will draft and distribute a media release communicating the outcomes.
To more information on this critical dialogue you may request more information from Desiré Goliath: Telephone: 021 487 1500
We will not be silent on acts which criminalizes poverty. You cannot fine people for being homeless. Yes in the 60s you fined us for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Or for standing in the wrong queue. And you fined us for refusing to go to the small window at the back of the main shop . And you fined us for swimming on the “wrong beaches”.
Dear City of Cape Town: you cannot fine our elders - again - for they have lived through the horrors of such discrimination for most of their childhood. Some of them are on the streets today because of discrimination experienced over decades, jobs lost to job reservation laws, houses lost through spatial apartheid, businesses lost through economic apartheid. Now they and their children are going to be fined again - for being poor. We will mobilize to pack the courts with a class action case if necessary.
This is 2019. We refuse to be fined -again - for being poor.
And there is a Constitutional Court.
If you are a lawyer wishing offer pro-bono services in this matter, please mail the email address above.
Lorenzo Davids is the CEO of the Community Chest.