City of Cape Town gets flak over poverty bylaw

Cape Town mayoral committee member (MMC) JP Smith.

Cape Town mayoral committee member (MMC) JP Smith.

Cape Town is the only city that has a bylaw that leads to homeless people being fined for sleeping on pavements or erecting illegal structures.

The implementation of a municipal bylaw by the City of Cape Town that would see homeless people being fined for sleeping on pavements – currently being investigated by the SA Human Rights Commission – has come under scrutiny and it seems Cape Town is the only metro in the country to enforce such a law.

Other municipalities, such as Tshwane, City of eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay and Mangaung in the Free State, do not have bylaws that specifically target homeless people.

Cape Town has come under fire for its decision to implement the bylaw but mayoral committee member (MMC) JP Smith defended it, saying it had invested in street people through a host of interventions in the past decade.

“Our efforts have seen the social development and early childhood development department work closely with our displaced persons unit within law enforcement, with the aim of offering social assistance to individuals who live on the streets and ultimately to reintegrate them with their families and communities of origin,” said Smith.

He said the bylaw had been around since 2007 and did not specifically target the homeless.

The ANC in the Western Cape has said it is going to legally contest the bylaw as it believes it proposes criminalisation of poverty, according to Andile Lili, a member of the Western Cape provincial legislature.

“The bylaw is illegal and unconstitutional…” said Lili.

Cape Town is the only city that has implemented a bylaw that leads to homeless people being fined for sleeping on pavements or erecting illegal structures.

City of Tshwane MMC Sakkie du Plooy said his metro did not have such a bylaw and would never implement one.

Du Plooy said: “I do not think fines are the best way the City of Cape Town can deal with this issue, it seems rather inhumane.”

The eThekwini municipality’s Princess Nkabane said the nuisances and behaviour in public places bylaws, which provide measures for preventing or minimising public nuisances, only spoke to vagrancy and beggars, and not homeless people.

“It is not illegal to end up homeless, that is a circumstance that could befall anyone.

“However, begging on the streets, sleeping on public benches, hanging clothing on the street and all other activities that might be a nuisance to others, is covered,” said Nkabane.

Nelson Mandela Bay municipality has a draft bylaw relating to land invasion and management and control of informal settlements, while Mangaung municipality is undergoing a “reclaiming the city programme”, aimed at reclaiming the city centre from lawlessness.

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