School is no place for squatter camp, says pastor

Prior to their removal on Friday, shelters were pressed up against the fence of Simon van der Stel Primary School.

Children at a Wynberg primary school are being exposed to drug use, prostitution and violence from a squatter camp that has repeatedly sprung up against the school fence, says a church leader.

Some 200 people, including residents, teachers and business owners, attended an interdenominational service, held by the Wynberg Ministers Fraternal (WMF) at Simon van der Stel Primary School on Sunday evening January 15, after Dutch Reformed Church pastor Dr Danie Nel sent a two-page document to the WMF, describing how the squatters in Waterloo Green Road, which is often referred to as only Waterloo Green, posed a threat to the adjacent school and its pupils.

“Some of the street people erected tents next to the fence of the school. The closest tents are 3.6 metres away from the nearest classroom, and the furthest tents are 9.2m away.

“The teachers and learners can hear, see, and smell what is happening next to the fence. Eyewitness reports confirm their exposure to public nudity, prostitution, drug trafficking, intoxication, aggressive behaviour, loud arguments, obscene language, gender-based violence and public nuisance.

“Since the street people moved into the area, rate-paying residents living close to the school have lodged frequent and urgent complaints to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), Wynberg police station, City Law Enforcement, the local government and political representatives.

“The two houses next to the school – owned by DPWI – had been left to go to ruin with street people living there and systematically stripping them.”

Mr Nel said it was suspected that most of the homeless of Waterloo Green were addicted to drugs.

“They are trapped in the situation and this is a crisis in my opinion for them as well. And they chose to erect their tents right next to the fence, and I can understand why because there are no cameras, it is dark there.”

Alison Martin has lived in one of two houses owned by the DPWI for several years. When she first came to the “Broken Palace”, as she calls it, seven people lived there.

“There was no one staying inside the house yet, but they managed to vandalise the house. Because I mean there was a toilet, running water, everything. They were so stupid… Eventually we moved inside the house, everybody had their own room, and so on.”

At one stage, four sex workers had lived among the squatters between the derelict houses but three of them had since moved, she said.

She said she did not use drugs herself but others occupying Waterloo Green used tik and mandrax.

Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Kleinsmith, Wynberg’s acting head of visible policing, said, “SAPS is aware of incidents of drug use from the tented community next to the Simon van der Stel School, and we have specific operations to address that concern, but we are not aware of any complaints of prostitution or any GBV-related complaints emanating from there.”

According to Mr Nel and Ms Martin, City Law Enforcement removed up to 11 shelters on Waterloo Green on Friday January 13. One tent with two occupants had already been put up again. Another homeless couple told the Bulletin they sleep at Waterloo Green at night, building their shelter anew each night.

The Bulletin asked the City to confirm whether Law Enforcement had cleared the shelters, but it did not respond before publication.

Ms Martin said, “I am glad for what Law Enforcement did because they catch on all the nonsense: they break into the houses, they rob the people.”

Mr Nel said, “The problem is they have also been removed in November and in December, and then they return. We are thinking about how we as a community can help the school, in some way to prevent this. So we made a suggestion, and we held a collection on Sunday, that they install security cameras and security lights. And we know that drug dealers, prostitutes and criminals don’t want to be in areas where they are being recorded. So we think that may prevent them from returning.”

He added: “The constitution says whenever there is an issue where children are involved, the rights of the children are most important… So you can’t say these guys have human rights, they can’t be removed from their shelters, if it is infringing on the rights of children.”

The Western Cape Education Department and the DPWI did not respond to questions by deadline.

The homeless couple who stay here told the Bulletin they build the shelter at the steps off Waterloo Road each evening and take it down in the morning.
At least one tent has already sprung up again next to the school fence.