Covid-19: Homeless immigrants say they were rounded up by officials, driven around and dumped

City of Cape Town says homeless people were consulted, but they deny this

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Photo of some packets and bundles
Ziggy Goredema had to leave his possessions behind when Law Enforcement officials rounded him up last Friday. Photo: Miki Redelinghuys

Homeless immigrant Ziggy Goredema was among eight people picked up by City of Cape Town law enforcement officers in Vredehoek on Friday, held in the back of a van and then dropped off in the streets of Goodwood. The eight walked for over four hours to get back to their tents.

The City’s Executive Director for Safety and Security, Richard Bosman, confirmed to GroundUp that people had been “collected”. He said: “The City’s Law Enforcement Department collected a group of 21 persons this morning for transportation to the Wingfield temporary site. Officers have been liaising with the group for the past few days, in preparation of the move. They are being profiled at the Cape Town Central SAPS before heading to Wingfield.”

But Goredema denied that officers had consulted him or the others to prepare the move.

Miki Redelinghuys, a resident of the area who has been keeping in contact with the group living in Van Riebeeck Park, says she received a phone call early on Friday from Goredema, who told her that he had been taken without warning by City Law Enforcement, and was in the back of a van being driven around the City Bowl.

Goredema, who is from Zimbabwe, has been living in a tent near Van Riebeeck park in Vredehoek since the lockdown began. For the last two years he has been employed at an electrical hardware store, earning R100 a day. He also earned R20 a day helping a vendor set up his stall at the beginning of the day. He sent most of his earnings to his sister in Zimbabwe, who is taking care of his daughter. In spite of his job, he has not been able to afford housing and has been living on the streets in the City Bowl all this time. After lockdown started, he tried for a place in Culemborg Safe Place, but he was told that this space was only for South African citizens. He moved up to the mountain, as he had been told that no homeless people would be allowed in the City Bowl during lockdown.

At about 8AM on Friday morning, according to Goredema, as he was preparing his breakfast outside his tent near Van Riebeeck park in Vredehoek, law enforcement officers came up on him, grabbed him by his belt, and threw him in the back of their van.

Goredema said that he and seven others were taken from their resting places near or in the park without their consent. He left behind all his possessions, including his face mask. Goredema was locked in the van with another homeless person, from Malawi.

They were driven from Vredehoek to the parking lot outside Charly’s Bakery in Harrington street in the city centre. Goredema says he could hear the Law Enforcement officers discussing what to do with them. He estimates that they waited at that spot for two hours before going to Culemborg Safe Place where they were told the facility was full and in any case would not accept immigrants.

The officers were informed that the Wingfield military base (run by the Department of Home Affairs) was designated for foreign national homeless people, and drove there in convoy, only to be told, according to Goredema, that there was no space for the eight people in the vans. He says that Instead of driving them back, the officers got them out of the vans and drove off.

People GroundUp spoke to inside Wingfield base confirmed that Law Enforcement officers dropped off people outside the gates of Wingfield on Friday morning and drove off. This source also confirmed that the site could not handle more people.

Goredema says the group of eight then decided to walk back to Van Riebeeck park - 11km as the crow flies. As they were walking beside the base, Law Enforcement officers returned and tried to corral the group, he says. They fled, and, avoiding main streets, walked for four hours back to Van Riebeeck park, arriving at about 4pm. Goredema has since got his possessions back.

He says he can understand the fears of the local residents, some of whom have expressed concerns on Facebook and WhatsApp about the presence of the homeless people in the park. Goredema, who is teaching himself about sustainability and the environment, says he is very careful about the impact he has on his surroundings, but he does acknowledge that those living in and around the park could be more conscientious about fires, noise, and litter.

Bosman has previously stated that homeless people would not be arrested or removed without “exhaustive attempts” to get them to move voluntarily. Asked whether the homeless people had been left in the street in Goodwood, Bosman said: “The persons were transported to Wingfield and the site management was informed of their arrival. Law Enforcement staff did not leave them on the pavement – however, it is our understanding that a few of them ran away shortly after arrival. As indicated before, they were liaised with over the course of two days this week, indicating that they would be transferred to Wingfield.”

Lockdown regulations state that forced “evacuation” of homeless people to temporary shelters is only justified when “necessary for the preservation of life”, and only if the temporary shelters meet the necessary hygiene standards. On Thursday, the Cape Times reported that Senior TB/HIV adviser with Doctors Without Borders, Dr Gilles van Cutsem, believed that the dangers of Covid-19 transmission at Strandfontein were high due to overcrowding and insufficient detection and medical care capabilities. The Wingfield centre is built like the Strandfontein camp, with occupants living together in a large marquee.

“In a small space where there are more than 20 people breathing the same air, you will see a rapid spread,” says Goredema. “There is a lot of sickness among homeless people - it’s not just Covid-19 I would be worried about.”

GroundUp tried to contact Home Affairs, through spokesperson Siya Qoza and media manager David Hlabane, but received no comment or acknowledgement.

TOPICS:  Covid-19

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