SWEAT statement on Camps Bay occupation

The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) joins Triangle Project, Gender DynamiX, Equal Education, the Khayelitsha  Community Action Network and others in support of the #WeSeeYou movement, a collective of LGBTQI+ activists and artists who are occupying a Camps Bay mansion to raise awareness; and in solidarity with landless people, economic inequality worsened by the coronavirus and lockdown and the ‘lack of safe spaces’ accessible to the marginalised. The collective has also extended a call to acts of solidarity with those who cannot pay rent or eat and those who are vulnerable to violence.

We support actions that raise awareness about homelessness, displacement and exclusion of sex workers, queer people, trans women who are sex workers and the LGBTQI+ community. SWEAT, with its 25-year old history of advocating for the rights of sex workers, understands the realities of homelessness, the brutalities marginalised people face and the consistent lack of acknowledgment and/or support from government.

Just a few months ago, The GALA Queer Archive commissioned a short film looking into the experiences of homeless transgender sex workers across Cape Town. In different areas across Cape Town, communities of homeless trans sex workers are living under bridges, on open fields or wherever they can find a space to set up a home. The stories they tell differ, but are also similar in many ways: a lifetime of rejection by families and communities, violence, struggling to access opportunities and a constant fight to make their voices heard against systemic efforts to keep them on the fringes of society.

In April this year, at the start of the lockdown, Robyn Montsumi, a lesbian woman, and a sex worker died while detained at Mowbray police station. She was arrested two days after refusing to go to the City of Cape Town’s ill-conceived Strandfontein camp for the homeless. Conditions at the camp had been described as inhumane, unsanitary, and undignified and proved early that the initiative had nothing to do with protecting the most vulnerable in a society. The City of Cape Town has consistently failed to see through its promises to provide social housing to the most vulnerable. Plans for such housing are launched with great fanfare but never realised while large scale private developments go ahead all around the city. Where homeless people attempt to build communities on otherwise unoccupied land such as at the Willow Arts Collective in Observatory or Cissie Gool House in Woodstock the City responds with threats of eviction and displacement to places an hour or more from the City.

The consequences of evictions and displacement can be devastating. We are currently looking for family members of Mia*, a sex worker originally from KZN. She was part of a group of sex workers working and living in Parow who contacted SWEAT after they were evicted during the lockdown and tried to survive on the street. They reported being harassed by police and law enforcement and their blankets and possessions were confiscated. We eventually got them into a safe space, but it was too late for Mia. She contracted pneumonia and died at Karl Bremer hospital last month. 

As an organisation we have seen increased reports of violations against sex workers: illegal evictions, police brutality; harassment by law enforcement and private security, etc. Many spent a hard winter during a pandemic on the streets without any source of income.

We support the #WeSeeYou movement in its efforts to create awareness on the homeless, the displaced, the stigmatised and ‘those who disproportionately are the victims of violence in already-violent communities’.  

We have also now learned that the collective will be appearing in court after being served with a notice of motion for immediate eviction.

The hearing is set for Friday, 2 October at 10am and we will be outside the Cape Town High Court in solidarity. Join us.

*[Not real name]