Site found for refugees

The refugees in Albertus Street started packing when they heard they are moving to the Wingfield site.

The refugees in Albertus Street packed their belongings last week after hearing that they would be moved to the Wingfield Military Base in Goodwood.

This came after police evacuated the faction of the group still living in the Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square last Thursday, April 2, and moved them to a site in Bellville for the lockdown.

Today the country goes into day 14 of a 21-day national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.

As CapeTowner went to print, the rest of the refugees living in Albertus Street were moved to the Wingfield base, which took a little longer to prepare.

The refugees, who spoke to the CapeTowner, said while they heard from refugees in Bellville that conditions were not ideal as they lived in a marquee tent that did not comply with the social distancing regulations and had limited fresh water, they were grateful that they were no longer going to be exposed to coronavirus on the streets.

The City, in a statement, said the removal of the refugees from the church by SAPS, was premature and did not conform to the agreement they had with the national government.

The City had last week started moving homeless people to a number of temporary shelter sites across the city in order to comply with the lockdown.

One of which included the extension of the Culemborg Safe Space (“Stranded in the city centre”, CapeTowner, April 2).

Mayor Dan Plato said the Wingfield base had been identified by the national Minister of Public Works, Patricia De Lille as being owned by her department and she instructed that it be used by the City for the housing of the refugees. “We immediately took occupation of that site for the purposes of preparing it for the erection of tents and basic services for this purpose, and we are doing so in a manner that ensures applicable social distancing for the duration of the national disaster.

“We also jointly identified the Paint City site in Bellville to house the City’s homeless population and a tent was sourced by Ms De Lille’s office for this purpose.”

The mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said the police, on instruction from the national government, removed the refugees from the church to be relocated to the Bellville site, which was identified for the homeless people.

However, Ms De Lille and Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, hit back with a statement on Sunday, saying that the City’s statements are untrue. “The removal of the asylum seekers and refugees from the Central Methodist Church and Greenmarket Square has been a subject of two court judgments issued on 17 February 2020 and 17 March 2020. In all instances, the City of Cape Town failed to enforce its by-laws even after being ordered to do so by the court,” said the ministers in the statement.

“It is this dragging of feet by the City of Cape Town that led to the hearing by the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on 10 March 2020. The Portfolio Committee instructed the Department of Home Affairs and the City of Cape Town to work out together a comprehensive plan to resolve the impasse.”

It was reported that Ms De Lille invited Mr Plato for site visits which led to the identification of Paint City in Bellville and Wingfield in Goodwood for temporary shelter of asylum seekers and refugees.

“Over and above the letter, the officials of the City of Cape Town embarked on some clandestine activities to disrupt the plan and evacuation of the asylum seekers and refugees. These activities included contacting bus operators to discourage them from ferrying the refugees and veiling threats to the provincial officials of the Departments of Public Works and Transport,” the statement continued.

“In the circumstances, the statement issued by the Executive Mayor on 5 April 2020 is clearly intended to mislead the public about the true state of affairs. Similar statements were attributed to Mr JP Smith, Mayco Member for Safety and Security who has been distorting the facts to suit their own unknown agenda. The attitude of the City of Cape Town deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms possible. What the country needs in this time of crisis is responsible and visionary leadership and not misguided bickering,” the statement said.

Mr Smith said that that all spheres of government should work to relocate the homeless community and get them into shelters and to work together during the coronavirus crisis.

The police did not respond to enquiries from the CapeTowner by the time this edition went to print.