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CT's by-law on fines for homeless violates rights, says SAHRC

The commission received hundreds of complaints from people living on the streets regarding their treatment at the hands of municipal officials.

Margriet Pienaar sits under a blanket on a cold winters day in Cape Town. Pienaar has been living on the street for 15 years. Picture: Bertram Malgas/EWN

CAPE TOWN – South African Human Rights Commission officials will this week meet with Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato over a policy on homeless people.

The commission received hundreds of complaints from people living on the streets regarding their treatment at the hands of municipal officials.

Last week, the City of Cape Town was criticised for fining homeless people in the city.

The municipality issued 199 fines over a period of six months to homeless people and has denied harassing those living on the streets.

The SAHRC said it would meet with city officials this week.

Commissioner Chris Nissen explained: “I wanted to discuss with them or the council the issue about the constitutionality of this by-law and the fact that they’re using one by-law to deal with homelessness. It is unfair and violating the rights of homeless people.”

Nissen said the complaints included the removal of their possessions, as well as important documents, such as IDs and the issuing of fines.

Nissen added that without these documents, they could not access healthcare services or Sassa grants.

Meanwhile, the city said it had a safe space in the CBD which housed more than 200 street people.

The Western Cape Social Development Department said its winter readiness programme set aside R47,6 million to assist 27 shelters which provides more than 1,400 beds to homeless people.

WATCH: CT's homeless hit back over fines: 'They're treating us like dogs'

'NOT OUR RULES'

Last week, the City of Cape Town responded to reports that it had implemented fines for homeless people on the city's streets and public spaces.

In an official statement from MMC for Safety and Security JP Smith and MMC for Community Services and Health Zahid Badroodien, the city said it was not illegal to be homeless and street people were entitled to freedom of movement. However, the city explained they were expected to abide by the laws of the country and the by-laws of the city – particularly the by-law relating to streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisances.

It also said the by-law was promulgated in 2007 and and that the fines were set by the Department of Justice, and not the city.

In its defence, Smith and Badroodien said Cape Town was one of the few administrations that had invested in the plight of the homeless through a host of interventions in the last decade.

Additional reporting by Lungelo Matangira.

(Edited by Shimoney Regter)

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