The Dignity Project: ‘Safe Spaces’

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis visiting a Safe Space. Picture: supplied

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis visiting a Safe Space. Picture: supplied

Published Jun 25, 2024


On June 18, 2024, High Court Acting Judge MJ Bishop, granted the the City of Cape Town the right to evict between 99 and 140 people living at seven sites belonging to the City in the CBD.

I have read both the mayor's announcement informing the general public, as well as the 95-page order made by the judge.

The mayor repeats what the City said in court, focusing on and claiming that the City's offer of safe spaces is a dignified offer of accommodation and that it offers a great deal of services to uplift and empower those living on the streets, and that they are hugely successful.

The court did not agree with all these claims and the City has been ordered to make certain changes and specific arrangements at their Culemborg Safe Space, one for these particular residents, in order for the court to be satisfied that this is a suitable alternative to the streets.

The judge goes even further in suggesting that in upgrading Safe Spaces in the future, the City would do well to consider the issue of privacy.

The judge also stated that it could not say that the Safe Spaces are adequate alternatives for all people in all circumstances faced with eviction. The judge also clearly states that granting the eviction does not mean the court sees the Safe Spaces as the best option in dealing with homelessness.

The judge has made the order conditional to the City committing to the changes agreed to in court. The entire process will be supervised by the court. The length of this supervision is not time limited and those being evicted and accommodated by the City can approach the court at any stage of their being accommodated by the City.

The judge also criticised the City for having tried to improperly and unlawfully evict these individuals prior to the court order being granted.

The judge also took exception to the City referring to those living on the streets as being criminals during the proceedings.

He said that although some homeless people may commit crimes, using that as a justification for evicting of a whole group of homeless people is unwarranted.

Although the City sought, as they did in the Sea Point tennis court eviction, to get the court to grant a blanket interdict on anyone in future setting up structures and living on any Cityowned land in the CBD in order not to have to resort to court action to evict such occupants in the future, the judge refused to grant this interdict, saying it would be both unlawful and unconstitutional.

The court has also recognised the right of those living on the streets to refuse what the City is offering as an alternative.

I find the mayor’s statement about the court order very disappointing and dishonest as it omits all of these facts and he has taken one or two comments out of context to continue justifying the City’s Safe Space concept as an effective and successful intervention for those living on the streets.

This too is strange in light of the admissions the City themselves have made in the recently released proposed strategy to reduce rough sleeping in Cape Town.

A reading of this document, released for public comment by the City of Cape Town about two months ago, begs the question why the mayor’s statement contradicts most of what is contained in that document.

In this document, the City for the first time states that “the City alone cannot address this complex issue”.

It goes on to say that “despite all these efforts, the pressures that result in homelessness have overtaken the capacity of the City’s interventions”.

These are significant admissions made by the City, but more importantly, they totally contradict what the mayor is telling residents. The City goes so far as admitting that staying at night shelters and safe spaces might not be as wonderful an option as they have led the public to previously believe, and again I quote: “People staying in night shelters and safe spaces have to renegotiate their accommodation nightly and are only permitted on the premises from 5.30pm to 8am, with a limited stay period of six months.”

I am grateful that this court, while having granted the order, has done so conditionally and with oversight and supervision by the court itself, and is holding the City to the commitments they agreed to in court.

It's a pity that the other residents living at the Safe Spaces will not enjoy these same provisions ordered by this judgment to make their stay more dignified and sustainable.

I also agree with the judge in recognising that even with these provisions and the court's supervision to ensure compliance by the City, there are those for whom the City's Safe Spaces are not the answer.

* Carlos Mesquita is an activist for the homeless and a researcher working in the Western Cape Legislature for the GOOD Party.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media

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