Convenor’s Thoughts: A Response to Councillor Shayne Ramsay

This Opinion Piece by Greg Andrews, Convenor of the Street People’s Forum, is in response to Sea Point Councillor Shayne Ramsay’s Facebook post and subsequent apology ‘March against Grime’ Cape Town councillor apologises to homeless.

In a Facebook post, since deleted, Sea Point Councillor, Shayne Ramsay, declared on the weekend, “given that we have such a liberal constitution, there is not much that SAPS can do to control vagrants”. She also proposed a “March Against Grime” ostensibly to voice her constituency’s dissatisfaction with the street-based people in her area and asking members of the street community to “move along”.

I read the outrage against Cllr Ramsay with growing unease because I found myself strangely unmoved by her inhumane attitude to street-based people and the backlash against her.

Shouldn’t I be angrier?

Yes, I should. And so should our Mayor, and other leaders in our province and city. A glib “we will investigate” is not enough — about as meaningless as Cllr Ramsay’s apology on Sunday.

Like them, I have become comfortably numb, to quote Pink Floyd. The protagonist of the iconic song seeks medical assistance for some unspecified pain. The treatment takes the pain away but also the person’s humanity, leaving them out of touch with their dreams, hopes and connections.

Cllr Ramsay is not an aberration. She represents an all too common version of our humanity in Cape Town. Daily operations by Law Enforcement, and other security cluster organisations, continue to harass and violate the rights of street-based people. The City’s stated policy of “making the streets uncomfortable” remains unchanged. Instead, new amendments to nuisance by-laws are set to make it easier for street-based people to be legally harassed. I regularly attend local rate-payers and special rates area meetings and deal with CIDs throughout the metropole where I hear community leaders express quite openly the same attitude as Cllr Ramsay.

Our policies, leaders and businesses want to see a quick fix solution to the “problem” of street-based people. A little jab to cure the pain. Sadly, like Pink Floyd’s hapless patient, the cure for our malaise cannot be cured by inoculating ourselves from the tough questions about who we are as a people.

No amount of “moving on” will create the never-never land of “elsewhere” we hope the smelly indigents will disappear to. An injection to stay the pain is as temporary as attempts to vaccinate Cape Town’s wealthy neighbourhoods from the incursion of “vagrants”. Calling them “homeless” does not make them return to some far-off idyll in the country. Blaming our leaders for their fascism, doesn’t absolve us of being complicit in a fundamentally unjust city.

There are already examples of real hope, a cure for our city’s pain, one that does not require synthetically blinding ourselves to one another:

There are innumerable street-based people who contribute to our society as functional parts of our communities.

There are projects that are making a real, measurable difference at a fraction of the cost of the ineffective punitive measures the City continue to employ.

There are many homed individuals who co-exist with their street-based neighbours without the need to protect their rubbish bins from the hungry and welcome the second economy of recycling that contributes to our collective environment.

These stories are not popular because they call into question the assumptions we make about street-based people. They call into question the industry we’ve created to entrench Apartheid and make Cape Town pretty enough for the tourists.

The implications of Pink Floyd’s song are prophetic and worth considering in our current political climate. I for one am horrified that my numbness is so insidious. We cannot afford to be numb. We must face our pain, face one another and deal with the pain, before that pain consumes us. There is no other option.

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