Land invaders cause havoc

Law Enforcement in action in Burnham Road last week.

Squatters occupying sites in Plumstead are ruining the neighbourhood while the authorities fail to act, say residents.

According to Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, there are 13 informal shelters and tents in Gabriel and Burnham roads with nine women and 12 men.

“They’re refusing all social assistance offered to them, and so the matter has been forwarded to law enforcement,” he said.

Shelley Kemp, who lives in Burnham Road, said she had sent seven complaints to the City about the land invasion at Burnham Park. Nothing had been done.

“As an estate agent, we’re losing business because people don’t want to live near criminals and the filth. Let alone the children who have now disappeared from the park.”

On Thursday, law enforcement were in Burnham Park, clearing materials used to make shelters.

An officer said dealing with land invaders was complicated.

“We appeal to the public not to feed them but rather to call the City at 107. They will offer the homeless a place to stay, rehabilitation, a job, rehab and reunification with their families,” he said.

“They don’t want to move into shelters because there are rules and regulations. Some come from nice homes and good families but they are not wanted because they steal to maintain their habits,” said the officer.

He said they also found that drug dealers – many with links to the 26s and 28s gangs – were moving into areas like Plumstead.

“There’s big money here. They move in, build their client base, then infiltrate schools. In the past, the genuine bergie usually used alcohol and didn’t go further into tik or cocaine,” he said.

Victoria Cawood, an octogenarian who lives near Gabriel Road traffic circle, had two gate motors and a new hose pipe stolen from her home.

The second time she was so furious that she went in search of her stuff, and found it.

“The guy claimed he bought the hose for R50. They don’t look homeless: they’re smartly dressed and one was wearing a gold chain,” said Ms Cawood.

Businessman Saleh Abrahams said he had had to erect razor wire between his curtain shop and the vacant land next to the Gabriel Road traffic circle after vagrants harassed his customers.

“They’re defecating, fornicating, belligerent and intoxicated during business hours,” said Mr Abrahams.

Deon Martitz, owner of the Shell garage on Gabriel Road traffic circle, said a vagrant had threatened one of his staff. He had also opened two cases of theft at Diep River police station.

“The man who was arrested should have spent three months in prison but was out three weeks later,” said Mr Maritz who complained that law enforcement were not removing vagrants.

On Tuesday August 25, a Western Cape High Court judgment prohibited the City of Cape Town and the SAPS from doing evictions or tearing down shelters – occupied or not – without judicial oversight.

A senior inspector at Wynberg Law Enforcement, Heinrich Ras, said that under the level-1 lockdown they could not evict someone or demolish a structure or tent, or confiscate personal belongings.

Joshua Chigome, spokesman for Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez, said that under the state of disaster, municipalities were responsible for homeless people who were not in shelters, and for providing alternative accommodation, such as community halls, to house them.

City Law Enforcement spokesman Wayne Dyason said the public could report squatting and land invasions to 107 but they could take time to attend to as similar incidents were happening all over the city.

Dr Badroodien said Covid-19 had stalled a street-people count scheduled for 2020.

“I would guesstimate that about 10 000 homeless people are in the city,” he said.

“There are about 20 shelters that are funded by the Western Cape government. However, there are at least 40 spaces available on any given day.”

More shelters were needed, including ones for victims of gender-based violence, mothers with children and other specific groups, he said.

He added that the City’s street-people unit had relocated four people in Plumstead, three to shelters and one had been reunited with his family.

Ryan Manual, who is living in one of the illegal structures on land next to Gabriel Road traffic circle, said he and his fiancée had ended up on the street because they were fleeing from gangs trying to recruit them. He claimed he and his fiancée had landed in hospital at the end of last year after being assaulted by gang members wielding sledgehammers.

He said his fiancée had a job but he earned a living by selling wood and scratching through bins for things he could sell.

Nearby, a woman called Suzette was removing washing from a fence. She also goes by the name, Squirrel, and has been living on the streets in the vicinity of Gabriel Road, with her partner, Peter, for about 20 years.

Pointing to the tents, and shelters fashioned out of hardboard, plastic sheeting and strips of metal, she said they should go.

“They’re on drugs,” she said.

“We squat here, but this s*** ain’t on. They’re giving us a bad reputation. Did you ever see us living like this? Please get rid of them. This is not Plumstead anymore.”