Living on the streets of central Cape Town

Treat us with respect, say homeless people

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Photo of a homeless person\'s bed
Many homeless people live on Hope Street and Plein Street next to Parliament in Cape Town. Photo: Masixole Feni

Richard Mikundi rubs soap rigorously onto his shoes, ensuring that they are sparkling clean. On the fence behind him hang the clothes that he has washed, drying in the morning sun. When they are dry, he will make his way to the Camps Bay beachfront where he sells his artwork.

“I come for the season,” says Mikundi.

He says that he usually spends the warmer months in Cape Town selling his artwork and then goes home to Malawi for five months of the year. For ten years, this has been his way of life, but this year he is going to have to stay through the Cape Town winter as business hasn’t been good.

Photo of a homeless manRichard Mikundi didn’t make enough money to return home to Malawi this winter. Photo: Masixole Feni

He sleeps in a field in Gardens, central Cape Town. Other homeless people also sleep here.

“We clean up the place after we wake up,” says Mikundi. They do this to try and keep the peace with those residents in the area who are against them living there. Residents like to walk their dogs here.

Next to Mikundi is a tree in which he stores his bedding. As for his other belongings, he says that his friends living on the field will look after them while he is at work.

When it is raining, he stays with friends who have houses. But he says he feels safer living on the street than when he lived in Gugulethu where he was robbed and experienced “too many problems”.

Photo of a homeless woman“Tessa” worked in a nightclub and now lives on the street. Photo: Masixole Feni

“Tessa” (not her real name) lives with her boyfriend alongside De Waal Drive and has been living there for over a year and a half. She says that the tarpaulin that covers her structure makes for a damp home. They also put carpets inside to help keep dry.

Last week, law enforcement came to the area. She says that even though law enforcement isn’t supposed to take blankets and clothes, they often do. If there is no one there to claim the structure, she says it will be removed.

She says a lookout is kept for law enforcement, and when the residents of this small homeless community catch wind that the law is in the area, they hurry to take down what they can of their structures.

“We stand together. If I don’t have [something], [then] this one will give,” says Tessa, speaking of the sense of community that the people living alongside the highway experience.

A community of homeless people live below De Waal Drive. Photo: Masixole Feni

Tessa, who is originally from the Paarl area, worked in a nightclub in the city centre last year, but quit her job when her asthma became too severe. After that, she moved onto the street, living outside, near the Waterfront, for a short while, before moving to where she is now.

Her boyfriend is a maintenance worker at a block of flats nearby and his wages manage to support both of them.

She says that people who live on the streets want to be treated with respect. “We also have dignity,” she says.

Tessa feels that people often believe that they those who live on the street are “below” them.

“There are quite a lot of educated people living here,” says Tessa as she points to the people living around her.

Photo of a man sleeping covered by a blanket on the open streetA homeless person sleeps on the Grand Parade. Photo: Masixole Feni

Tessa’s neighbour is 50-year-old Ingaak Simons who has lived on the street his whole life.Two of his sisters also still live on the street.

“I was born under a bridge,” says Simons.

When law enforcement came to the area last week, Simons was in hospital for treatment. Law enforcement took everything of his. When he came back, just before the rain set in last weekend, he didn’t have a blanket to his name or even another set of clothes.

His neighbours have now provided him with two blankets and he has managed to put together a bed on bricks with a small tarpaulin over it.

To survive, Simons “skarrels” in bins in the area. He says that at the end of the week he will be back at the hospital as his health has not improved. But whether his home will still be standing when he returns is uncertain.

Photo of homeless people's structuresA number of homeless people live on Keizersgracht. Photo: Masixole Feni

Tonia Peters lives on the pavement in a makeshift structure near Wembley Square – an upmarket complex of shops, residences and offices.

Originally from Mitchells Plain, Peters says that sometimes when the weather is too bad, she will go stay with her father who still lives in Mitchells Plain, but whose house is too small for her to live in permanently.

She says gangsters and shootings in Mitchells Plain make it unsafe and that many of her friends have been shot.

Peters says that she lives in Gardens so that she can be close to Athlone to visit her baby daughter who is in a children’s home.

To keep warm in the winter, she says she uses blankets, which she got as donations from the Carpenter’s Shop, a local business that provides services to unemployed and homeless people. This is also where Peters baths.

Like many living on the street, Peters lives in fear that law enforcement will come to remove her home. Her structure, which she shares with a few others, has been up for a few months, but she seems doubtful whether law enforcement will allow it to stay up for much longer.

Photo of homeless people This homeless community is near the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Photo: Masixole Feni
TOPICS:  Housing Human Rights Society

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