The City of Cape Town has warned that a decision by the Department of Public Works to remove amenities from a temporary shelter housing refugees in Bellville was not only a health hazard, but akin to an unlawful eviction. This is yet another battle in an ongoing war of words over the shelter.
The City of Cape Town fired proverbial warning shots at the national Department of Public Works (DPW) after ablution facilities were removed from Paint City, a temporary shelter in Bellville housing refugees and asylum seekers.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the city wrote that the absence of ablution facilities at the shelter was in violation of the Environmental Health By-law and constituted an “unlawful eviction”.
“The national DPW is now threatening to unilaterally evict all refugees at the Bellville site without a court order by removing the tent providing shelter to these persons,” the statement read.
The city says a warning letter compelling Public Works to return amenities was ignored and a Compliance Notice would now be issued.
As Daily Maverick previously reported, refugees at Paint City were forced to relieve themselves in buckets and plastic bags and wash in makeshift communal showers.
The amenities, provided by the department, were removed on 9 November.
Public Works indicated last week that the marquee under which the foreign nationals are housed was borrowed from an events company in Bloemfontein and would soon be taken down.
A recent GroundUp report indicated that an employee from the events company had tried to remove the tent last week, but refugees living at the shelter had negotiated with the unnamed man.
“We have now reached Level 1 of the State of the Disaster and the events company requires the marquee to be returned as their events are picking up again,” Public Works spokesperson Zara Nicholson said.
This is the latest battle in the war of words between Public Works and the City of Cape Town over Paint City.
The shelter, which was established under Disaster Management regulations in April, was one of two sites set up to house refugees who had occupied the Central Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square as part of a protest against xenophobia. The second shelter is at Wingfield Military Base.
The city said it is incurring ongoing costs at Wingfield for tents and amenities premised on the fact that after the lockdown, Home Affairs would either reintegrate refugees and asylum seekers into local communities or repatriate them to their countries of origin.
But the city says it never agreed to the use of Paint City for “sheltering purposes”, despite contrary claims by Public Works.
“The City objected to using Paint City as a site in correspondence to both the SAPS and DPW on 1 and 2 April 2020 respectively, and on several occasions prior.”
In letter exchanges seen by Daily Maverick, on 29 March Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille wrote to Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi indicating that after a site visit with Mayor Dan Plato the previous day, Paint City was agreed upon as a site to shelter the foreign nationals.
“The City of Cape Town has agreed to utilise their site in Bellville known as Paint City for the temporary relocation of the non-nationals,” De Lille wrote.
However, in letters to both the SAPS and Public Works on 1 and 2 April (as indicated in the statement), the city said “no agreement was reached” to use Paint City.
“Paint City cannot accommodate approximately 1,100 and moving so many people to one tent will lead to the contravention of the regulations in a number of ways, not least of which is the requirement for social distancing, which will be impossible in terms of what you plan,” Plato wrote to Western Cape Police Commissioner Yolisa Matakata.
In its statement, the city said Public Works’ decision to remove ablution facilities was a “devious attempt to strong-arm the City into providing a function outside of its mandate”.
“The City wishes to confirm that DPW is solely managing the Paint City site, and rejects claims that the City agreed to use this site for sheltering refugees.” DM