Heavy-handed police action has cost two homeless women their right to vote. The two had registered for Wednesday’s poll through a church-run programme in Durban.
SAPS members — from the mobile station at the city’s harbour — allegedly burned ID books belonging to Nosipho Magwaza (23) and Thandeka Makhanya (28). This happened on Monday night, during a raid on the strip of land jutting into the Bay on which they sleep.
The two women are part of a group of around 200 homeless people who had been issued with identity documents and registered for the poll as part of a programme run out of the Denis Hurley Centre, attached to the Emmanuel Cathedral in the Durban central business district.
Magwaza, who has been living on the street for a year, said she had been issued with an ID last month after applying via the centre, which used donor funding to set up the programme.
“We sleep on the island because we don’t have money for shelter and it’s a little bit safe there. We only go there at night to sleep and leave early after we clean the place,” she said.
“On Monday the police work us up. It was about 8.30pm. They chased us away — we were five [people] — and we couldn’t take out clothes and blankets. They took pepper spray and put it on our things and then burned them. Our IDs were there,” she said.
Makhanya said she was forced to flee with “only a vest and shorts”.
“I am really hurt by this,” she said. “I wanted to vote. I voted in 2014 but missed out in 2016 because I have been living like this. The police didn’t need to do this to us.”
“I was also using the ID to try and find a proper job. Now I can’t. Now I have to apply all over again.”
John Stumph (51) was one of those who managed to vote at the centre — where a polling station had been set up by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) — after being registered to vote earlier this year.
Stumph, who survives on a disability grant and lives in a shelter run by the Methodist Church where he pays R20 a night, said he was happy to be able to vote again. “It was very nice to vote today,’’ he said. ‘’It’s a very good feeling to be able to do this.”
“There are a lot of things that are wrong. Crime is a serious problem. They [thieves] robbed me twice for my phone. There aren’t any jobs,” he said.
Nkosikhona Mthethwa (31) sells books and CDs outside the centre, where he has been coming for meals and a shower for about a year. He lives in a shelter in Mona Road, where he pays R25 a night from his earnings. His stock is kept at the centre overnight.
Mthethwa, who has been on the street since 2015, when he came to Durban from Mbongolwane near Eshowe to look for a job, voted on Wednesday after being issued with a new ID and registered through the programme.
“I’m feeling great,” said Mthethwa with a grin. “This makes me feel normal, like any other person. It makes me feel hopeful. The political parties even came here and spoke to us before the election.”
“It was important for me to vote. Government needs to give us jobs, to stop crime. There are so many empty buildings in Durban. Why can’t the government use them for homeless people?”
Denis Hurley Centre director Raymond Perrier said they were concerned about the burning of ID documents by police.
“Unfortunately, local government tends to treat homeless people like they are lesser, as if they are litter, so this sort of problem is not exceptional,” said Perrier. “Police have no right to destroy people’s property, but they still do it.”
Perrier said the voter registration programme, which had begun six months ago, would be rerun ahead of the 2021 local government elections.
The SAPS did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.