“When lockdown started last year, we had about eight tent sites. Now there are more than 140 of these camp-out spots.”
Mayco member for safety and security JP Smith shared this fact with People’s Post as he walked past Broad Close in Wynberg East on Thursday 25 February.
Smith and Mayor Dan Plato were on patrol with the Wynberg East Neighbourhood Watch (WENW) as part of a series of community neighbourhood watch support visits across the Metro.
They had met up with WENW members and auxiliary police officers in Park Road at 18:00.
As dusk settled in, Smith was about 6kms into the roughly 10km walk which would take him and Plato past the crime hotspots in the area.
One of those is a vacant, Prasa-owned plot next to Yusufeyyah Masjid in Mosque Road where, at last count, about 75 homeless people had settled in.
“You can thank the Covid-19 State of Disaster Act for this. That and the ongoing legal issues surrounding land-invasion evictions,” Smith said, adding that under these limitations the City wasn’t allowed to confiscate tents or bedding.
Since the start of the year, the Wynberg East Civic Association (Weca) has been quite vocal about the unsanitary conditions prevalent at the patch of land located on a hill. In February, Weca again called for urgent intervention by Prasa and the City claiming that criminals had infiltrated the illegal settlement, threatening public safety, and that the piles of litter dumped on the land were drawing rats.
In an email response to Weca’s plea, Prasa said that the long-awaited clean-up of the site was going to take place on Tuesday 23 February.
People’s Post visited the site at around noon on Tuesday to find the area devoid of tents and structures. A few homeless people were still hanging around, trying to save some of their belongings from a huge heap of rubbish piled up on the field.
Nadia Solomons (25) told People’s Post she was trying to find some of her clothing which had gotten mixed up with the trash. She said she was still sleeping when Prasa started with the clean-up.
Visibly upset, Solomons said that Prasa could at least have given them a warning. She said she had nowhere to sleep that night.
Solomons said she couldn’t go home because the situation “was bad” there. She claimed that she hadn’t been approached by the City’s Department of Social Housing and that she hadn’t been offered accommodation at a shelter. She said if she had been given the option she would have taken them up on the offer.
Funyanwa Gade, Prasa area manager for Wynberg, was on site. Gade told People’s Post that they were waiting on trucks to cart the trash away. On the night of Smith and Plato’s visit to the site, most of the rubbish was still there. A number of homeless people with their tents had also returned.
Engaging with them, Plato promised that he would contact his office the very next morning to help find them accommodation at a shelter.
“That is if you are willing to go to the shelters,” Plato said, adding that many homeless people were refusing to take up the offer. “I just can’t understand it,” he said.
Yunus Karriem, a member of Yusufeyyah Masjid’s exco committee, said this had become a political hot potato between the provincial and national governments “where fingers are pointed at each other instead of solving the problem at hand”.
“This area is right outside the mosque – a place of worship. The place is reeking of filth. We have asked several times that this issue be resolved quickly, but the poor attempts are getting us nowhere,” he said.
According to Nadia Hassen, a WENW member, neighbourhood watch members, with the help of the people living on the site, began work to clear the rubbish yesterday (1 March).
“We did a little bit of a clean-up. The left-over garbage that was not collected last Tuesday was bagged up and now it is waiting to be collected by the City’s department of solid waste today (Tuesday 2 March).”
Salwa Beukes, WENW’s chair, said it would be an ongoing process. “It will have to happen in stages. At the moment, there is more garbage there than there are people to help clean it up.”
On Sunday 7 March, WENW hopes to do a proper census of the people living on the field. “We are organising a get-together at 07:00. Maybe we will treat them to a doughnut and a cup of coffee. We want them to come and talk to us so that we can see how we can place them into programmes to uplift them,” Beukes adds.