The African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape has accused the Democratic Alliance (DA) of criminalising homelessness as it faces heavy criticism over various by-law contraventions resulting in fines for the homeless.
This week, News24 reported that homeless people faced hefty fines for various by-law contraventions - such as obstructing pedestrian traffic on sidewalks and other offences, with fines ranging from R300 up to R1,500.
In an Eyewitnesses News article, the City of Cape Town explained that this is nothing new, saying the homeless were expected to abide by state laws and city by-laws – especially the by-law relating to streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisances.
It said the by-law was implemented in 2007 and the fines were set by the Department of Justice, not the city.
Mayoral committee for safety and security member JP Smith says the by-laws are unavoidable.
The enforcement of by-laws, unfortunately, is unavoidable because the problems being caused by communities are not aesthetic in nature, they are very tangible and they are very real. There are crime dynamics that have emerged that follow the presence of large homeless communities and the issues around the PIE Act [Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998] I have already explained to you.— JP Smith, Mayoral committee for safety and security member
The complaints don't come from middle-class communities alone, they come from much poorer communities as well who are having to wrestle with the problem.— JP Smith, Mayoral committee for safety and security member
Fines were being written in the case of very egregious offenders so it is not a new thing.— JP Smith, Mayoral committee for safety and security member
Smith says formal complaints to the ombudsman have increased.
We issue about 130,000 to 180,000 fines a month to people across the city for all range of offences. Of that maybe 100 is for homeless people. It is not possible to not do the enforcement because we have seen the situation on our streets deteriorate.— JP Smith, Mayoral committee for safety and security member
Smith says the ANC is being hypocritical.
When we inherited the city from the ANC we rewrote the by-laws. When we rewrote the by-laws we did it a whole lot more sensitively... to be called out on that by somebody who is part of the custodian of the kind of by-laws you find, it is unreasonable and unfair.— JP Smith, Mayoral committee for safety and security member
ANC's media liaison officer Dennis Cruywagen says he would have been surprised if his party voted on the by-laws.
I would be surprised if we had been part of it.— Dennis Cruywagen, Media liaison officer - ANC
It is not about talking about rewriting our draconian legislation or harsh legislation. That is running away from the fact that these are DA by-laws.— Dennis Cruywagen, Media liaison officer - ANC
Meanwhile, the South African Human Rights Commission commissioner Chris Nissen says the Constitution makes it obligatory to the state to take responsibility for vulnerable groups.
He says the commission will engage the city on the matter.
I am appalled that people can still debate this issue in the cold winter.— Chris Nissen, Commissioner - South African Human Rights Commission
We must test those by-laws, test the laws against the Constitution.— Chris Nissen, Commissioner - South African Human Rights Commission
Click on the link below to hear the full discussion...