The gruesome demise of Tent City


The gruesome demise of Tent City

Security officials demolished the Sea Point refuge of Cape Town's homeless on February 22. HERMAN LATEGAN was there to talk to some of the evicted people.


IT is just before midnight. I'm sitting on a small chair in Tent City. It is an informal settlement on a piece of land next to the tennis courts where Sea Point, Mouille Point and Green Point meet.

I have written before about how mercilessly the people (not all) in these areas behave towards poor people. They must beat it, hamba. And now, at last, these people have prevailed.

One of the residents stopped me in Sea Point's main road and told me they would be raided at midnight. It will happen in the dark so no one can see, he said.

He was worried. Now I sit and wait with the inhabitants (or occupiers, outlaws and squatters, as certain media refer to them) to see what will happen.

A cold wind blows in from the sea. The lights of the police station and petrol station burn as if it's an Edward Hopper painting. The atmosphere is desolate. The whole of Tent City holds its breath. Me too.

Someone coughs softly. A dog barks. The large, opulent retirement home opposite Tent City is dark. The inhabitants are sleeping. Is it Sea Point's own metaphorical Kristallnacht tonight?

Read this article in English:

I wait for an hour then decide to go. It's an old, cruel tactic to scare these people with psychological warfare. You let them know you're coming to demolish their place at a certain time. Then you don't come.

It reminds me of the old apartheid days, when the army or police with German shepherd dogs and sjamboks would scare black people at night and chase them off the streets.

The idea was if you don't see black people, they don't exist. The same is now true for homeless people. Drive them away and we never have to think about them again.

One suspects that people project their own fear of poverty onto people they see as troublesome, bad, dirty, lazy and dangerous. Better not be too smug. In a country where the economy is in tatters, there are people who are one pay cheque away from the streets.

A major turning point in my life was when I received my training as a conscript in 1985 in Grahamstown. We were often woken at 1am, loaded onto big brown lorries with our guns and torches, and taken into the township.

When we got there, we shone lights on the houses. We had to kick open the doors with our boots and wake the sleeping people. It was to instil fear with a military show of force and to show black people exactly who was boss.

One day, I shone a torch on an elderly woman in her bed. She had a baby with her. I saw the fear in her eyes, absolute terror.

Beside her lay the fragile, weak child. I turned away and a great, suffocating grief overcame me, as if someone had placed a black bag over my head and wanted to suffocate me.

These are fellow South Africans, I thought. Are we in a civil war now?


During Covid, about 50 homeless people moved into Tent City. They built small tents to sleep under. There are an estimated 14,000 homeless people in Cape Town and far fewer beds are available in night shelters and the city's Safe Space projects.

Where should they go? Whose problem are these faceless displaced persons? The many highnesses of Sea Point (and other places) see poor people as a lifeless monolithic group without any distinctive character traits.

The mantra is that they must be herded back to where they came from. This is to reduce people to animals.

Yes, it is a fact: they live illegally on those lands. Yet, as Adam Small wrote in What abou’ de lô?: “watte' lô / God's lô / man's lô / devil's lô / watte' lô.”


The DA's ward councillor, Nicola Jowell, is a woman with a generous heart. I know she is in a difficult situation and that the people who vote for her make her life tricky.

I have seen with my own eyes how residents berate her about this issue. Never in my life have I come across so many whiners.

Not only do they moan incessantly about Tent City, but also about lawns that are dry, the promenade that is apparently full of garbage (read people) and a legion of topics thicker than the old Yellow Pages.

I'm not an economist, so I can't come up with a magic solution. In the past I have spoken to politicians, social workers and economists. I can honestly say it is complex, there is no one set of solutions.

All I know is that people who live on the streets don't want to live like that. Over the years I have often talked to them, and each one has a unique story. They are not extras or ghosts.

Then let it also be mentioned: if the ANC had not been so pathetic and corrupt, there would have been more money available to address these issues.

When I wrote a previous article about Tent City, I wrote to Cameron Dugmore of the ANC and asked what its solution for homeless people was.

My first e-mail to him was on April 20, 2022, at 10.33am. On September 13, 2022, at 6.25pm, he replied: “My sincere apologies, this one slipped through.”


Last Thursday at 10am, the journalist Matthew Hirsch of the news website GroundUp let me know that the first trucks had arrived. He was at Tent City. I rushed there.

It looked like a disaster. A screaming woman was dragged from the scene. A large truck with a crane flattened everything, then slowly picked it up and placed it in the back of the truck.

People stood outside the gates dumbstruck and watched as their possessions were destroyed. A woman and her dog had to give way. A man who had collected succulents for years had to leave them behind.

The people I spoke to (see videos below) told me they had nowhere to go. Here they can search through the bins and at least make some money. In Delft, where there are beds and shelters, there is no possibility of any work.

They also don't know if the beds in Delft actually exist. It is far from the city, they will not be able to afford the transport.

One man set some of the structures on fire, preferring that to the security people snatching them away and throwing them aside. Some of the residents have mental health problems and could not quite understand what was going on.

They were running around madly. Some policemen looked pleased as punch, one even smiled. The philosopher Hannah Arendt called it “the banality of evil". Bureaucrats who do their job without thinking about the moral consequences.

Out of dismay, I went across the road to Three Anchor Bay's beach where I could look out over the sea. There was a group of white women in jogging clothes and shiny sneakers.

While the fire department extinguished the flames, one said: “All they know is to burn down and tear down."

Adam Small wote: “Please mêrim / kamaan smile / kyk net / ons tentjies is vol happiness gapaail!”

Statement by the City of Cape Town

Cape Town's mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said the eviction happened after a legal process of about two years.

During this period, law enforcement's homeless unit and the city's social development officers engaged the illegal occupants on several occasions to offer them alternative accommodation,” he said.

These offers of alternative accommodation continue. The city is committed to cleaning occupied public spaces across the metropole."


PS: I am not in favour of photographing needy people, it can border on poverty porn. But I did photograph these residents and talked to them so their stories can be heard firsthand.

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.