The Cape Town City Council has approved the new Unlawful Occupation By-law, including updates to the Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Noise Nuisances By-law, which has been in existence since 2007.
The City’s Executive Mayor, Alderman Dan Plato said that “These crucial by-laws will help us to protect land and buildings from unlawful occupation. We are a caring city seeking to uphold the rule of law. That is why, once gazetted, it will officially be law in Cape Town that an offer of social assistance first be made, including shelter, to ensure the constitutional enforcement of the prohibition on sleeping in public places.”
“The City has a constitutional obligation to make sure that our public open spaces and our city remain sustainable, that there is equality before the law, and that while we are offering assistance to help people off the streets, our by-laws are being applied equally to all residents at the same time,” Plato adds.
According to the City, these by-law amendments are designed to help resolve public complaints more effectively. There are currently over 350 hotspots for public complaints around by-law violations relating to people living on the streets.
To ensure the prohibition on sleeping in public places is enforced humanely, and in compliance with the Constitution, the by-law has been amended to provide for the following:
- A person found sleeping in a public place without authority will first be issued with a compliance notice;
- They will be offered alternative shelter;
- Such a person only commits an offence if they refuse a reasonable offer of alternative shelter;
- In sentencing, a court will give a guilty person the option to pay a fine.
The by-law also limits and explicitly states that law enforcement may:
- Direct a person to stop prohibited conduct, remove an obstacle, and to leave and remain out of a specified place
- Issue compliance notices as well as notices to appear in court or pay a fine
- Arrest a person who commits an offence in terms of the by-law and to search a person if necessary
- Impound goods and materials as per the City’s Standard Operating Procedure on the Impoundment of Goods and Animals
- Require identification
“The City proceeds from the principled position that no person should be living on the street. It is not a place for any human being to live. Every action of the City is directed towards assisting people to be able to leave the streets and reintegrate with their families and communities. The Streets by-law, combined with the City’s Street People Policy and range of social assistance, is the most humane way to assist people living on the streets, because it is a legal mechanism to shorten a person’s stay in unsafe public places, while offering them a suitable alternative off the street.
“It is imperative that the City manages our public spaces in a manner that makes them usable by all, and ensures that our city continues to create jobs, attract investment, and drive urban regeneration,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
This is how the City plans on assisting people to rebuild their lives off the streets:
- A Reintegration Unit working daily to link willing individuals to shelters, reunite families where possible, and offer support to obtain ID documents, social grants, employment training, and EPWP jobs;
- Access to Matrix programmes to help people get off drugs;
- An emergency COVID-19 grant-in-aid package worth R34 million released to NPOs and SA’s highest service reach to the homeless during hard lockdown;
- Funding for Safe Spaces and the expansion of shelters operating on City-owned land;
- Annual Winter Readiness campaigns working with shelters to care for more people when the worst weather arrives.
Meanwhile, the objectives of the Unlawful Occupation by-law 2021 are to:
- prevent the unlawful occupation of land and buildings;
- monitor, control, and regulate the growth of informal settlements within the city.
This by-law imposes a duty on officers to intervene in situations where abuse of power is evident, supports the City’s discretion to act on behalf of private land owners and other entities when unlawful land occupation attempts occur, and imposes certain obligations on land owners, both private and public, to protect their land.
“The City will always act to protect municipal land from unlawful occupation attempts, and to prevent the hazards and hardships that come with occupying unsafe land. With this by-law, we are also laying the foundation for enhanced informal settlement upgrading,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, Councillor Malusi Booi.