“Reluctant politician”: Carlos Mesqu …
Carlos Mesquita went from record company boss to five years in the streets of Cape Town when he lost everything to drug addiction. Now he’s running as a city councilor in Sea Point, the same area where he “skarreled” for a living.
âI am one of the few people who has had the experience of having a home and being homeless,â Mesquita told DM168.
We met him on a sunny afternoon at Sea Point. There are no precise figures on the number of homeless people in the region, but estimates suggest more than 800. Cape Town has more than 14,000 people living on the streets.
Young Mesquita was a gifted person whose motivation was fueled by deep insecurities. âI had a Portuguese mother and a Spanish father. I was called a “sea-ka ** ir”. People didn’t accept me as white at school.
He also struggled with his sexuality and mockingly called himself “Nancy Drew”. By his early thirties, he had opened a successful music store and an award-winning record label. But personal issues and the drug-fueled music industry culture led to disaster. He went from traveling the world to digging in trash cans for second-hand items to sell.
The 52-year-old has been off the streets for over a year, during which time he helped establish Our House, a ‘independent living’ accommodation for the homeless, and founded the Rehoming Collective , a non-profit organization aimed at rehousing the homeless in a dignified manner.
Last year he founded the Strandfontein Homeless Action Committee (SHAC). He was accommodated at the Strandfontein Temporary Homeless Shelter during the height of the Covid-19 containment – “the worst experience of my life”.
Cape Town downgraded the shelter after criticism of health, safety and human rights violations.
Mesquita, who considered himself apolitical, initially refused to run as a Ward 54 candidate when approached by Good. In the fourth attempt, the nascent party, led by Patricia de Lille, conquers Mesquita with its manifesto. âThey were the first to ask me to give them an overview of their homeless policy. “
It was also the only party on its radar that approached the issue of homelessness in a phased manner. Good’s mayoral candidate Brett Herron said the party’s decision to nominate Mesquita as the Ward 54 candidate was inspired by his “unique connection to the Atlantic coast”.
Sea Point is where Mesquita rose to success, fell from grace and is now rising from the ashes. âWhen I was 30, I had a great view from my apartment in Selborne Place at Sea Point; 20 years later I had another room without a view in Pollsmoor Prison as I awaited trial for drug possession or possession of suspected stolen property as life happened to me and I ended up homeless at Sea Point, âhe said. reflected in a Facebook post.
The debate over how best to deal with homelessness in Sea Point has turned sour.
In May 2020, Sea Point resident Peter Wagenaar was the victim of arson after the car he was using to distribute food to the homeless burned down. Food programs in the area have also been tracked, threatened, harassed and cyberbullied, and some taxpayers fear that street residents will drive property values ââdown.
Paul Jacobson, Ward 54 opponent and Freedom Front Plus candidate, didxxed Wagenaar – released his personal details – on Facebook.
The arson attack took place shortly after.
Jacobson has been criticized for his antagonistic stance on homelessness. In July, he caught the ire of activists when he distributed a brochure with pictures of naked or semi-dressed homeless people. He said: “Enough is enough. Why do vagrants still occupy the Atlantic coast? “
Jacobson and Mesquita disagree on social media. The homeless rights activist recently denounced an “unacceptable” message shared by Jacobson on World Homeless Day, which featured poorly photoshopped images implying that the homeless were an eyesore during the Cape Argus Cycle Tour. Images of bicycles had been superimposed on photos of homeless people.
âPaul Jacobson pitched me as his opponent, calling me the sewer rat,â said Mesquita. Jacobson declined to comment on Mesquita’s candidacy, but told DM168 he wished “all permanent candidates in the constituency good luck in their campaign and at the polls.”
âI told Paul many times to ‘open your mind’,â Mesquita said. “Our ideologies are different, but what we want is exactly the same.” Ultimately, his desire is to help people get off the streets. If elected councilor, Mesquita has two main priorities: establishing a homeless center at Sea Point and creating employment opportunities.
âHousing people is the first thing to restore their dignity, then employment and social services as well as rehabilitation services.
Shelters in Cape Town were always full and available beds were often in areas far from economic opportunity, Mesquita said.
âIf I had to go back to the streets today, I would be living on the streets of Sea Point rather than going to a shelter.
Human rights violations such as rape, food shortages and poor sanitation were rife at these facilities, Mesquita said.
The paternalistic nature of shelter accommodation is also a deterrent for the homeless. Mesquita believes in decent housing as an alternative.
âThey are adults. They don’t need to be told on every corner what to do.
Mesquita, who is “fed up” with Cape Town’s policies, said criminalizing the homeless made the problem worse.
The city has carried out several high-profile raids in recent months, one of which involved the eviction of 21 homeless people living in front of the Sea Point police station. The City also recently adopted a new by-law on illegal occupancies, as well as updates to the by-law on streets, public places and the prevention of noise pollution.
Under the latter regulation, people found sleeping illegally in public spaces will be issued a warning and offered alternative refuge. If they decline the offer of accommodation and are found guilty of an offense, they may be fined or sentenced to jail.
The constitutionality of the street regulations is being challenged in court.
âThey keep people away from services and that doesn’t make sense. “
Despite being a rookie politician who admits he’s seen as a one-trick pony with a slim chance of winning elections, Mesquita entered politics with one goal in mind: to change public perceptions of the sans. shelter.
âI didn’t go out and say I want to win this thing. Winning comes in different forms, âhe said. “My name is the reluctant politician and I am.” DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 which is available for R25 from Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest dealer, please click here.