Tent City residents say fire was deliberate

The people living here went about their business.

A fire broke out at the informal settlement opposite the Sea Point SAPS offices on Saturday morning, raising concerns about the safety of the residents.

A homeless man who did not want to be identified said he suspected the tents that burned had been set alight deliberately.

“A guy by the name of Marcelino lives there and he came out of prison recently. He fights with the people that live here and he and his friends sell drugs as well. They are a troublesome bunch,” said the man. “People are scared of him and they don’t want him here, so that’s why I think they burned those tents.”

Another homeless person said this was the second fire at Tent City and the fire was not accidental.

JP Smith, a member of the City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee for safety and security, spoke at the tourism safety launch and said there are criminal elements within the tented camps.

“Amongst the homeless people on the sidewalks and tented camps there are a substantial number of people that have criminal pasts and significant criminal records. We see that we engage them and when we arrest them and this happens every day and it involves these individuals. There are definitely people engaging in criminal practices that they are comfortable with and now that they take occupation in these tented camps that are protected by a range of court orders,” said Mr Smith.

He added that criminals preyed on vulnerable people in the homeless camps.

The burnt out debris of Tent City in the foreground of Signal Hill.

Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson for the City’s Fire and Rescue Service, said the fire was reported at 8.20am.

“Crews from Sea Point and Roeland Street Fire stations attended to the incident. The fire was extinguished at 8.45 and three informal structures were destroyed and four persons displaced. The cause of the fire is unknown and no injuries or fatalities were reported,” said Mr Carelse.

Ward 54 councillor, Nicolla Jowell, says the City has offered help to those affected by the fire.

“The city has sent in a team to assist and remove the debris and clean the area. The occupants of the tented area have been offered assistance by the City’s Social Development Department, who have offered placement in shelters of the City’s Safe Space. We have been successful on a few occasions but largely these offers have been declined,” Ms Jowell said.

Ms Jowell adds that some of the residents of Tent City work in Sea Point and Green Point. She adds that the camp’s growth has been “curtailed” in recent months by “processes established by the leaseholder” but the risk of fire will remain until the area is cleared completely.

Heather Tager, the Chairperson of the Sea Point Community Police Forum, said she was saddened that people were displaced.

“I understand that those on the site have been offered alternative accommodation. It is imperative that a long-term solution is found for those at the site, providing them with better living conditions,” said Ms Tager.

Some of the burnt out items at Tent City.