A ward councillor in Cape Town has come under fire for publicly calling for a march against homeless people in Sea Point, referring to them as “grime and crime”. “If they choose to live in a society like Sea Point, then they have to behave in a manner which is acceptable to the other residents,” councillor Shayne Ramsay wrote in a Facebook post over the weekend.
— Zackie Achmat (@ZackieAchmat) November 26, 2016
Ramsay, a member of the Democratic Alliance (DA), later deleted the post from her Facebook page, cancelled the march (initially planned for December 6) and issued an apology via social media.
Regarding my FB post on homelessness, I unreservedly apologise to everyone I offended particularly the homeless South Africans in Cape Town. pic.twitter.com/V8Dat3OsYU
— Shayne Ramsay (@shayneramsay) November 27, 2016
According to Ramsay, the homeless people of the Mother City can be divided into three categories: “criminals, the mentally retarded, and those who are out of luck.”
Although Ramsay specified that her views did not reflect those of the DA, the political party’s leader Mmusi Maimane has yet to comment on the issue, and attempts by The Daily Vox to contact him were unsuccessful. But it turns out that this is not the first time that the DA and poor response to homelessness were spoken about in the same breath.
Blogger Ryan Wallace wrote in 2014 about an instance in Durbanville where homeless people in that area would get shelter under a building that included DA offices – until the offices in question had a sprinkler system installed just outside, so that they could no longer serve as a shelter for the homeless. “What concerns me is this – why would I give money to them, to help the poor, if they treat the homeless people in Durbanville so badly? Surely they could have found a better way to relocate these guys? Something more humane than being chased away by water? How is this even solving the problem? You’re just forcing them to squat under someone else’s noses now.
I really do love the DA and what they do in and around Cape Town but this pissed me off big time. Almost every single person I spoke to pre-elections, who did not vote DA, said it’s because of the way they treat the poor.”
And the DA wonders why we think they’re anti-poor.
— Sian Ferguson (@sianfergs) November 26, 2016
Current mayor Patricia de Lille released a statement in 2011 – shortly before she was elected as mayor of Cape Town – in which she acknowledged homelessness as a problem in Cape Town, and committed to providing solutions to it. “If elected mayor, I would make street people a priority of my administration… It is important that we build a caring city in which everyone who needs help receives it and an inclusive city where everyone has a stake in the future. A special mayoral project would ensure that the most marginalized members of our society have their special needs attended to.”
In 2014, the city implemented an initiative where they used hydrophobic paint to create stencils only visible in the rain, imploring people to care about the plight of the homeless and to donate to organisations that could assist them.
Maybe members of the DA need to re-watch the ad and get reminded to be a little more humane.
If anything, Ramsay’s actions highlight the importance of the role of local government. Ward councillors are not figureheads in isolation, but people in positions of power who have the ability to bring about very tangible change – and change that may not be favourable to everyone involved. This incident comes in the wake of the demolition of the Tafelberg Remedial School and Wynand Mansions, and the Reclaim The City campaign urging the City of Cape Town to prioritise the use of the land for low-cost inner city housing in Sea Point, instead of selling the land to wealthy investors for private development.