This making sense of, or giving meaning to our new reality is critical, given the knowns and unknowns that can make our understanding of the world unintelligible. (David Harrison/M&G)
Following the successful housing and quarantine facilities provided to the homeless in the City of Cape Town at the Strandfontein temporary emergency accommodation site, we have witnessed a rampant political campaign against the site that has been carried in the media.
The site was set up in full compliance with Section 11D of the National Disaster Regulations as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Of course there were teething problems during the set-up of a site of this magnitude, but these were quickly addressed. Unfortunately, those shortcomings have been paraded as the status quo with other claims just simply being made up.
One of the claims was that a man was murdered on the site. No murder has taken place. Another claimed that a 16-year-old girl was gangraped. No such incident took place. An 18-year-old woman made allegations of sexual assault against one individual, and that person has appeared in court and was granted bail. Another claim was that the homeless were shot at with rubber bullets. The City’s enforcement staff are not allowed to carry firearms on site so it would have been physically impossible for them to shoot at the homeless. Others said they were only fed dry bread. The daily menu actually includes three meals, tea, coffee and juice, with fruit and snacks in-between. Dinner has ranged from chicken and veg rotis, to beef stew and boerewors rolls. The portions are generous.
A prominent daily news website claimed that no medical support is being provided to those on site. This is just plain false and irresponsible to not fact check first. An on-site medical facility is staffed by at least 15 nurses, doctors, pharmacists and volunteers.
A daily clinic service offers general health checks and over 800 homeless people have benefited from the diagnosis of chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension that would otherwise have gone unchecked on the streets. These individuals are now enrolled for chronic medication.
Social workers assess mental and substance abuse concerns and addicts have access to psychosocial support and referral pathways.
All homeless individuals were screened for the Coronavirus prior to admission at the facility. A small number required further testing following the screening process and they were placed in isolation until test results came back, all of which were negative. A number of the individuals did, however, present with tuberculosis, which would not have been identified had they continued living on the streets. The City has been providing the appropriate treatment for them in an isolated facility at the site to prevent infection of others. I have found it shocking that a representative of a reputable international organisation has claimed that no such facilities exist on the site.
The City has gone to great lengths to comply with the national regulations using our own limited resources, while we await the disaster funding that the national government has indicated would be made available.
When political parties started campaigning against the Strandfontein temporary emergency accommodation site, I called on them to please have some respect and work with us. Instead, they have continued to politicise a national pandemic for personal political gain.
On March 18, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation and said: “It is therefore both appropriate and significant that the 14 political parties in our Parliament are standing together, across party political divides, to fight this disease together. We hereby demonstrate practically that we are united as the leaders of our nation to overcome this global crisis facing our country and our people.”
It is shameful that the unity called for by the president has not been practised in the Western Cape. Instead, opposition political parties and their members and affiliated groups in Cape Town are looking for any opportunity during this national crisis to politicise and discredit the work being done by the City of Cape Town.
A prominent activist claimed that the City failed to consult with NGOs who could have offered their assistance. Unfortunately the same person failed to acknowledge that the services at the Strandfontein site are being provided by the most experienced NGOs who work with the homeless – The Haven Night Shelter, Ubuntu and Oasis.
The City and NGO partners are on a daily basis reuniting individuals with their families for those who wish to return home and referring people to care facilities for medical or psychosocial reasons.
As the Strandfontein site was always planned to be decommissioned following the lifting of the initial lockdown, the City is putting plans in place to offer shelter placement or reintegration to any homeless individual at the facility willing to accept this offer following the lockdown.
We have encouraged all interested organisations, churches and groups to get involved in taking care of Cape Town’s homeless community at this time. Anyone with the ability to help does not need permission from the city to open their doors.
We are grateful to all partners and donors who have risen above the ugly politicking and continue to make valuable contributions in the form of blankets, water bottles, towels, toilet paper and other essentials.
When the media start to carry half-truths, misinformation and outright lies without bothering to check the facts first, it makes it near impossible for the truth to catch up as the lies spread like wildfire on social media.
Dan Plato is the executive mayor of Cape Town