Article of Interest: The voice of street-based people vital for true picture

The following article by regular Cape Argus columnist Danny Oosthuizen appeared on 30 August 2016. The column is in response to an article by Suzette Little, The issue of street people needs a balanced approach that was published on 23 August 2016.

The voice of street-based people vital for true picture 

Sunday was the Blisters for Bread fun walk and I was invited by Sun International to join in the fun. I took part in the 5km walk with Miss South Africa 2016 Ntandoyenkosi Kunene.

The GrandWest “Powerhouse” Nikki, Heidi, Melaney and Elouise created a fun atmosphere – and Miss South Africa made it super special. They even had the Angry Birds characters to entertain the kids.

Speaking of angry, in a letter published in the Cape Argus, Suzette Little from Social Development accussed the Dignity Project of being baised in our reporting about law enforcement etc.

Little forgotten that bias in public discourse usually tends toward those in power, who have money and influence to determine how information is fed to the public.

Her accusation against me and NEHEMIA attempts to paint the city’s Street People Department (and by implication, herself) as the victims of misinformation. When has the voice of street-based people ever been in the press?

Little retreats to a defence that the city is only upholding the laws that prohibit certain behaviours in public spaces. But the law assumes that adequate alternatives are available to those who break these nuisance laws. If adequate alternatives are not available, such as public toilets, humane accommodation and so on, there is no legal imperative to prosecute people for trying to survive.

The law will ultimately find in favour of those currently being persecuted, so it is hardly surprising that Little is nervous, because she knows, that the city is liable for having failed to provide the alternatives.

This is exactly what the apartheid government did by creating townships and forcing people to live under terrible conditions. When people responded with violence against this oppression it legitimized the apartheid government’s violent retaliation.

Little affirms the need to improve the city’s services which is a bit like saying “Our house could do with having a fire-extinguisher.” while the house is burning. The city’s research, which it has yet to publish, calls into question the foundations of their policies. What is need is a complete overhaul, not tweaking. But the city refuses to release the research because it is aware of how irrelevant its Street People Department will look in the face of this data.

As to Little’s contention that the city is co-operating with NGOs, I’d love to know the details. All the organisations that are members of the SPF (Street People’s Forum) are alienated from the city.

Little is correct in her insinuation that there is political mileage to be made from street-based people.

This is why the voice of street-based people is vital in our public discourse to prevent politicians making a career on the backs of the poor.

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