Homeless people violated

2017-01-09 11:14
Ayanda Khanyile (22) talks about his ordeal as others sleep on the side of the road behind him in the Pietermaritzburg CBD.  INSET: Brian Vandryk (23) who also sometimes lives on the streets, shares a joke with friend Mxolisi Mkhize.

Ayanda Khanyile (22) talks about his ordeal as others sleep on the side of the road behind him in the Pietermaritzburg CBD. INSET: Brian Vandryk (23) who also sometimes lives on the streets, shares a joke with friend Mxolisi Mkhize. (Nondumiso Zakwe)

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The homeless community of Pietermaritzburg are being subjected to inhumane raids at the hands of Msunduzi’s municipal officers.

A reporter for The Witness recently witnessed an incident where municipal officers chased homeless people off the street in the CBD after waking them with a sjambok.

During a subsequent investigation, eyewitnesses told The Witness that such raids are common. They alleged they are regularly assaulted and that their belongings are confiscated.

The raids escalate during the festive season when more tourists visit the city.

Homeless people who survive on the “bare minimum” said they are beaten up and forcibly removed from the streets with nowhere to go.

Sharing her experiences, a frail looking Nondu Zuma (21) slouched on the stairway that was her bed the previous night and pointed at scars on her arm where municipal officers had allegedly hit her during one such raid.

“The municipality is mistreating us. I was beaten up. They took my clothes and blankets and chased us away, telling us we are not needed here,” said Zuma who took to the streets of Pietermaritzburg a year ago because of “disagreements” with a relative who was her sole guardian after her parents died.

Another homeless person, Mthoko Mkhize (24), said the reason he is on the street is to try and make a living for his struggling family. He described the treatment of homeless people by the municipal officers as unfair.

He said they usually take action against the people just before dawn.

‘‘They come here early in the morning and chase us away like dogs.”

He said the officers arrive and confiscate their clothes and blankets, forcing them to sleep on cardboard.

However, sometimes kind people who saw what happened would give them new blankets.

As a result of the raids some homeless people have lost valuable possessions.

One, Ayanda Khanyile (22) from Edendale, said he lost his identity book.

“Where are we supposed to go if they are not providing us with shelter? Are we not humans?

“They came one morning and forcefully chased us away. They took my blanket, clothes and my backpack, which had my ID book inside. I followed their van and asked for my ID but they refused to give it to me. They treat us like garbage,” he said.

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha refuted claims of the alleged mistreatment of street dwellers, saying “common criminals” should not be mistaken for homeless people.

“These allegations are unfounded as we have not received any reports of such incidents. I hope we are not mistaking common criminals with street children because any offender that is breaking the law will be dealt with accordingly,” said Mafumbatha.

She said the problem of street children and the homeless community could not be resolved overnight.

“The problem requires a collaborative approach from a number of stakeholders such as the Department of Social Development, SA Social Security Agency (Sassa), Home Affairs and NPOs as it needs a meeting of minds to deal with it. It’s not an issue that can be addressed overnight,” said Mafumbatha.

She added that discussions were taking place to find solutions.

Onlookers who witnessed the incidents of violence towards the homeless rejected claims by Msunduzi that they are working towards a solution for their situation.

Programme manager of Maranatha Centre for abused and homeless people, Harrison Nash, said he condemned the violence against street dwellers, “especially since there is a lack of support for the homeless from government for non- profit organisations that help people living in the streets”.

When asked why they had not reported the incidents to the police, Khanyile told The Witness he felt the police would side with the municipal officers as they did with one of his friends, who has spent months in jail.

“I have a friend who was arrested for hitting the cops back. They don’t even give you a chance to explain your side of the story.

“They just assume you’re a criminal because you live on the streets. We’ve stopped reporting this. They beat us and when you defend yourself they arrest you,’’ he said.

• How municipal officials allegedly tried to extort money from a supermarket owner: 

For Mxolisi Mkhize of Inanda, after two decades, a drug addiction and a contraction of HIV, life on the street is no longer for him.

Mkhize started living on the streets when he was only eight years old after his father died in 1995. At the time he had been living with his father and an alcoholic relative in Inanda, so taking to the street to fend for himself seemed to be his only option at the time.

Over the years he has been helped by different social workers up until 2005 when he turned 18 and was reconciled with his family.

Shortly thereafter, when the situation with his alcoholic relative seemed unchanged, Mkhize returned to the familiar streets hoping to build a life.

Back on the streets, he soon fell into drug addiction and a life of crime.

“When you get to the streets you try to think how you’re going to survive and when you look to others, everyone is on drugs … I was also like that until I got caught for stealing cell phones out of a car and went to prison in 2014.”

He said prison saved him.

“In prison you learn a lot of things and you get time to think about your life …”

Mkhize also discovered he was HIV positive after being tested behind bars.

After prison, he said, he decided to stop using drugs.

When he was released, he had nowhere to go and ended up back on the streets.

“… it is difficult to get people off drugs while they’re still on the street,” he said.

“It’s better to provide them with shelter first and them deal with their drug addiction,” he said, appealing to social workers and other entities to help him reconcile with his family.

Read more on:    msunduzi municipality  |  pietermaritzburg

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