‘We want answers’

A large tent was erected in March to accommodate the group of refugees that occupies the streets in the City Bowl. PHOTO: KAYLYNNE BANTOM
A large tent was erected in March to accommodate the group of refugees that occupies the streets in the City Bowl. PHOTO: KAYLYNNE BANTOM

How long is temporary?

This is the question members of the Kenfac Residents and Ratepayers’ Association (KFRRA) says they have been trying to get an answer to from both local and national government since the start of lockdown.

In March a large tent was erected on the Wingfield Military Base site in Voortrekker Road to house hundreds of refugees who occupied the Central Methodist Mission Church in Green Market Square.

Leslie Swartz, chair of the association, says they were made to believe that it was only a temporary arrangement, but now six months later they are nowhere close to finding answers.

“As part of the Disaster Management Act implementation of lockdown level five, the City of Cape Town set up the facility at Wingfield as well as the facility for the homeless in Strandfontein. The latter facility has since been shut down, yet the Wingfield site remains in operation.”

He says what is even more infuriating is that since day one they were left in the dark.

“At first we were told that the tent would be for homeless people in and around the Kensington area. Overnight those plans changed and then we heard that the refugees would be brought here.”

He explains that since March they, as leaders, have been under pressure to pacify residents from nearby informal settlements. He says these residents are angered that the City hastily provided services such as mobile toilets, water and a generator to the refugees while they have been fighting for these services for years.

“For years we sent government proposals as to how the Wingfield site can be utilised. We suggested that it be transformed into a parking area to accommodate the influx of cars and buses on a Saturday when there are funerals at the Maitland cemetery. All our plans were rejected, but overnight a tent could be erected there.”

Swartz says he has written a letter to Patricia de Lille, minister of public works and infrastructure to provide them with answers. “As affected communities we want to know are these individuals going to be repatriated to their countries of origin or are they going to be reintegrated back into the communities where they lived before moving into the CBD?”

October marks one year since the refugees have been living on the streets of the City Bowl.

Richard Bosman, executive director for safety and security, says the City and the national department of home affairs are busy with a process of engagement to find a sustainable solution to the reintegration of the affected persons back into the communities.

“The implementation, once approved, will be done within the parameters of the national disaster management act regulations. The process has not been finalised yet.”

Laurence Mambu, a spokesperson for the refugees, says: “The feel from many of us is that we don’t want to be in South Africa anymore, but we haven’t heard anything back from government regarding repatriation plans. We just hope to get an answer from them soon so that we can find solutions.”

Thami Mchunu, national spokesperson for the department of public works and infrastructure says: “The site was made available for the duration of the state of national disaster.”

David Hlabane, media manager for the department of home affairs, says: “The minister of home affairs, the South African Human Rights Commission, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and the City are scheduled to brief Parliament today (Tuesday 20 October) on this matter.

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