The City of Cape Town’s forces of law and order – described as ‘goons’ by some people – have done it before: they’ve swept into the encampments of the homeless in the centre of the city, seizing their belongings, confiscating their identity documents and driving them away from what little shelter they had.
Often, these raids have been conducted in the middle of freezing Western Cape winters.
Well, because it’s their job to keep Cape Town safe (as if the homeless lurk and sneak around in search of people to attack), City officials have argued.
What happens to homeless people whenever they are turfed out of the few places in which they have been able to find shelter?
The City’s attitude it would appear is: ‘That is not our problem.’
Well then, whose problem, is it? Which party continues to purr over the National Party’s ‘invention’ of spatial apartheid, almost three decades after that awful policy was supposed to have been ditched?
I say the DA?
Please tell me if I’m wrong.
I remember – and let me appeal to Capetonians not to forget – how officials of the City, including the soon-to-have-his-arse-kicked-out mayor were prepared to lock up homeless people on a windswept sports field in the Cape Flats township of Standfontein at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It made me wonder, and, as a result, encouraged me to knuckle down to some research, about how authorities in different parts of the world, and in different eras, have treated their homeless populations.
I thought Nazism would be a good place to start.
In a piece called ‘Vagrants and Beggars in Hitler’s Reich’, Wolfgang Ayas noted that the Nazis planned their first big round-up of the homeless almost as soon as they came to power.
In July 1933, he wrote, the recently founded Reich Ministry of Propaganda urged a nationwide swoop on beggars.
Like so many things the Hitler regime did, the raid was preceded by a carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign….
Ayas pointed out that ‘Guidelines’ had been issued to the press, ‘portraying the forthcoming action quite cynically as a pendant to the recently inaugurated Winter Aid Programme, whose motto was “No one will freeze or starve”.
‘The psychological importance of a planned campaign against the nuisance of begging should not be underestimated,’ he quoted Nazi authorities as saying.
‘Beggars often force their poverty upon people in the most repulsive way for their own selfish purposes. If this sight disappears from the view of foreigners as well, the result will be a definite feeling of relief and liberation.
‘People will feel that things are becoming more stable again, and that the economy is improving once more.
Between 18 and 25 September 1933 the police, supported by the SA and the SS, organised what they described as a nationwide ’beggars’ week’, in which large numbers of vagrants and beggars were taken into ‘protective custody’.
But, as South Africans will know, once police had made their arrests, they did not know what to do with those they had arrested: existing prisons did not have the space to house tens of thousands of people condemned across Germany to sentences of up to six weeks for begging.
And in what made me think of Strandfontein, I read that a local newspaper near Hamburg had published a photograph of beggars, with a caption that read ‘the first concentration camp for beggars’.
Ayas added: ‘The limitations of the round-up … became apparent: neither in Hamburg, nor elsewhere did this police action secure the complete removal of the homeless from the streets.
‘Meanwhile, however, other measures for dealing with the problem were also being found. The homeless in Hamburg, as in many other large cities, were denied their rights to claim their benefits at local welfare offices. They had to do this instead at a special, central office.’
And in another ominous development, in November 1933, welfare agencies, at the prompting of the Hamburg Social Welfare Authority, adopted the Vagrants’ Registration Book as a compulsory identity card for the homeless.
Of course, we all know that many members of the National Party were great admirers of Nazi ways of doing things.
But long before Hitler and his henchmen had taken power and, indeed, long before the National Party came into power in 1948, South African authorities were already putting their version of spatial separatism into place….
In terms of the Native Administrative Act 38 of 1927 the Governor-General (and, later, the State President) became the ‘supreme chief of all Africans’.
It conferred on him the power – and it was absolute power – to govern Africans by proclamation.
Thus, he could order the removal of an entire African community from one place to another. The Native Administration Act became the most powerful tool in the implementation of forced removals of Africans from the so-called ‘white areas’ into the areas reserved for them.
This formed part of the spatial apartheid plan, which has yet to be ditched in Cape Town – and it was vicious.
It was described as a ‘cornerstone of racial oppression, division and conflict’ in South Africa.
Ever since the defeat of apartheid, spatial apartheid has become the key issue in the debate around which the city needs to develop a plan for those who live in it.
Sadly, it has done little to move forward.
Sadly, it does not appear to have the political will to reshape Cape Town. It appears happy to run a replica European City.
Many historically white suburbs remain historically white, while working-class black townships remain black townships, or informal settlements of tin shacks.
So far, the DA has given no indication of what type of housing policy if prefers.
Does it believe, like US Republicans do, that homeless should be given housing only after they undergo treatment for drug abuse or mental problems (as if there must be something seriously wrong with a homeless person.
My question is: does the DA believe the homeless should be housed? If its answer is ‘Yes’, will it say ‘How’?