When I saw pictures of those homeless people that were dumped in Strandfontein in tents that made me think of either revival churches trying to save souls or concentration camps where people are dumped but never come out the same as they were before, it saddened me.
It pierced my soul like a hot knife through butter, not because I have never seen homeless people but because for a few nights I was one of them.
It seemed like one day I was in a house with my children, my husband was working away and in what seemed like a blink of an eye, the company my husband worked for stopped paying him and others. He was stuck in a hotel in Egypt and I was evicted with my family. And just like that, I was homeless.
The look of despair on my son’s face as we bedded down for the night at a garage haunts me to this day. Cape Town is not the friendliest place. It’s a lie sold to innocent tourists who think that only a few people are suffering and living in shacks or below the poverty line. Those that they see on the left side of them as they leave the airport in their airconditioned vehicles.
For those tourists Cape Town is beautiful, the people are wonderful, and the beaches are the best in the world. Waitrons and tour guides smile at them with their shiny black and brown faces in the hope that they will be given a bit more tips to take home to their families. Because the salaries they earn is not enough to live in suburbia. It never will be. It was designed that way.
It was no accident of birth that the situation is like this but engineered to hide poverty, to hide despair, to hide unemployment and to hide the fact that wages are barely enough to cover the costs of transport to get to and from work.
Nothing much has changed for black and brown people in this city. They’re the problem that must be hidden. Let’s talk about the beautiful mountain instead or tour the wine farms that have exploited our families that have been trampling grapes for generations.
Everything is stacked against black and brown people. They are relegated to the outskirts of the City. They remain where Apartheid placed them. It’s better that way and if tourists want to see where black and brown people live let’s take them to places like Gugulethu and show them the wonderful food being cooked on the sidewalks and the welcoming smiles of a black tour guide who manages to make a buck from poverty porn.
But never show them the gangs that murder, rape and sell drugs because “those” people bring it on themselves. Let us never show them the homeless behind the shops in the city because those people mar the beauty of this wonderful city. Let us forget about the people that haven’t eaten for days and scrounge around in suburban refuse bins for a bite to eat. If they can get to those bins because suburbia doesn’t like the mess, they leave so often the bins are locked.
We shame poverty and homelessness as if it’s the person’s inability to at least become a gardener or domestic worker in the suburbs. Suburbia has a handful of kind people. The rest could not care. I know. I live there. I hear things. They want peace and tidiness and safety and quality of life even at the cost of exploitation.
They know about the homeless, they just don’t want to see them every day.
So even during a pandemic such as COVID-19 and during a national lockdown, they want “those” people gone.
So, dump the people in an already, overcrowded, impoverished place with “their” own kind.
But what about social distancing if they are all dumped in tents lying close together and socializing?
That’s easy, hopefully, those people will pull themselves together or simply die.
Homeless people are people without homes and given that the odds are stacked against them, it’s not surprising to see them remain that way.
Shack dwelling exists as a direct result of our past as does homelessness and poverty.