Squatters hurt business for Mowbray traders

Makeshift shelters set up opposite informal traders near the Mowbray train station.

Squatters living in tents and makeshift shelters near Mowbray train station are causing headaches for informal traders and commuters

The camp, which is on municipal property opposite the station, mushroomed from four tents and shelters and seven-to-10 people before lockdown to 14 tents and shelters and about 30 people after lockdown, according to Ingrid Frieslaar, the social outreach manager for the Groote Schuur Community Improvement District (GSCID).

“Due to the court case involving removal of homeless structures, it makes it difficult for us to intervene,” she said.

In August 2020, the Western Cape High Court interdicted the City from demolishing or evicting anybody from any shack, hut, tent or dwelling for the duration of the national state of disaster, except when a court order is obtained.

Ms Frieslaar said the people at the camp had turned down offers of shelter accommodation and work-programme opportunities.

An informal trader from Goodwood, who did not want to give her name as she fears reprisals, said the squatters were scaring off her customers.

“We used to open up at 9am though now we open at 10am, as we need to clean up the area because of the dirt and litter caused from the night before by the people staying there.”

A trader from Khayelitsha said she had seen gangsters in the vicinity and that fights had broken out. “When there is fighting outside, then we must close the gates of our stall and hide away.”

One of the squatters, Elizabeth Sellidon, 54, said she had been living on the streets for 30 years. “We don’t have anywhere else to go,” she said. “I am known by the traders where I do assist them with packing away their clothes.”

Mowbray Community Policing Forum chairman Jonathan Hobday said that while he understood the plight of the homeless, the situation could not be allowed to deteriorate to the detriment of other citizens and ratepayers. The growing number of street people raised concerns about public health and crime, he added.

“Our view is that the primary responsibility for finding a just and effective solution rests with the city council, working with the police and the CIDs and the provincial welfare department.”

Mowbray police station commander Lieutenant Colonel David Malong said they had seen more people in the camp and drug use and thefts from cars had been reported in the vicinity.

The Association for Educational Transformation, a non-profit, is about 50 metres away from the camp, and its executive director, Busisiwe Maqubela, said they had no complaints about the people living there. “We do notice there is a police, law enforcement and traffic officer presence in the vicinity,” she said.

Ward councillor Yusuf Mohamed said the squatters were drawn to the area by the economic opportunities present at the Mowbray transport hub. “Unfortunately it also attracts opportunists and criminals. Many of whom hide among the homeless residents,” he said, adding that the City was trying to improve its care programmes because the problem could not be “policed away”.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health Patricia van der Ross said: “This group of individuals has continuously refused assistance. Street people cannot be forced to accept assistance.”

City Law Enforcement spokesman Wayne Dyason said no shelters could be removed under the country’s state of disaster regulations.

“We focus on by-law contraventions and we clear up the accumulation of waste left behind or discarded in daily operations across the city,” he said.

Last October, the City said it planned to challenge the Disaster Management Act, under which the state of disaster is declared, in the Constitutional Court.

A statement on the City’s website said there had been an increase in unlawful occupation as well as an increase in a variety of makeshift structures and tented camps being erected throughout the metropole, including parks, environmentally sensitive pockets of land, road reserves, pavements, under bridges and between highway barriers.

The City said it would be applying for eviction applications on 595 tented camp and land-invasion hot spots.

A Groote Schuur Community Improvement District patroller walks along a path lined by makeshift shelters.
Makeshift shelters are visible next to the informal traders working near Mowbray train station.