During one of my 3 month stints at Pollsmoor I was seconded to working for a warder at the royal fee of R1.36 p/d

Cape Town - Pollsmoor Correctional services - Carlos Mesquita writes that the criminalisation of those experiencing homelessness and the model used to “accommodate” them is not meant to change. Picture: Monique

Cape Town - Pollsmoor Correctional services - Carlos Mesquita writes that the criminalisation of those experiencing homelessness and the model used to “accommodate” them is not meant to change. Picture: Monique

Published Jul 8, 2023


The criminalisation of those experiencing homelessness and the model used to “accommodate” them is not meant to change.

There are two things happening in tandem here.

Let’s take me as an example and why my life has been fraught with attempts to silence me since I started opening up independent living spaces for those experiencing homelessness.

Even those who initially had political agendas in promoting me as a voice for the homeless only supported me so long as my advocacy for those living on the streets focused exclusively on my criticising “the City, the province, or the national government”.

This would, of course, eventually lead to more funds being made available for them to access.

The last thing they had expected from me was that I would go out there and set up an alternative that worked and expose them as part and parcel of the homeless industrial complex.

During one of my three-month stints at Pollsmoor for being in possession of what was suspected to be a R20 packet of “tik”, I was seconded to working for “Oubaas”, one of the warders at the royal fee of R1.36 per day.

My job was gate control for the prisoners who went out to work with an official at a venue other than on the prison grounds, as well as doing the registers and ensuring we always had enough manpower to keep those outside contracts going.

I soon saw a trend. The same number go out, come in!

There was always an influx of new inmates if we had a month coming up where a significant number of the guys working specific jobs were about to conclude their sentences.

I soon realised that this happened throughout Pollsmoor.

Pollsmoor itself cannot operate without the inmates who perform all sorts of duties. From the administration, through to the cooking, feeding, cleaning, building, plumbing, and gardening – all of these tasks are performed by teams of inmates supervised by a warden – even keeping the dumping sites clean.

Then we have the cooks, cleaners and waiters in the officers’ mess, and we have those working at the tuck shops located all over the prison. We have the petrol jockeys at the petrol station. Then there are the outside contracts and the unofficial contracts like cleaning members’ homes and gardens on site, as well as little projects like chopping down trees and sawing them to provide some industrious warders like “Oubaas” with an extra income.

Now what does this have to do with the homeless? Well, it’s an industry that, just like the homeless sector, is set up to provide ways for people in power to profit from poverty.

Hence those who benefit from this system have been eager to silence me.

Why this isn’t easily exposed is that the media reporting on both imprisonment and homelessness usually focuses on the activities of a day and not over a period of time.

Both of these industries use talking points about addiction and mental illness to justify forcing people into abhorrent conditions. Once outside in the cold and stigmatised, the homeless person experiences an isolated state akin to solitary confinement.

Experiencing homelessness is a prison without any walls. A prison of the future if things don’t change. Like incarceration, homelessness is profitable for people in positions of power.

For some perspective: with the currently sanctioned model, both the City and their service providers say that they are moving people indoors and off the streets where they exist in horrible conditions.

This, of course, has a ring of very misleading compassion.

What this in fact results in is cheap labour and poverty profiteering.

Still think that it’s just one big coincidence that homelessness is a hopeless problem too difficult to solve?

If you have been following me from the day we left Strandfontein and especially through the housing period at Our House and then Rainbow House, you will know it’s not difficult at all. The case studies, video footage, and reports are there for all to see. But they were intent on ensuring that it was stopped before I reached too wide an audience.

Remember what I wrote earlier? The same number as go out, come in!

Let me explain. This vicious cycle happens in a variety of ways but always with the same result. When an “eviction” occurs, most unsheltered individuals wind up back on the streets in days. In the end, it’s all a big show. Most of those encampment residents will be cycled right back into unsheltered homelessness.

This time they will be in an even more precarious position due to loss of possessions, fines, and arrest records.

Homelessness is on the verge of becoming the new way of unjust incarceration.

We must act now to prevent it from happening.

* Carlos Mesquita.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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