SERI has noted the media statement issued by the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation on Wednesday, 1 July 2020 in response to the brutal eviction of Empolweni residents in Khayelitsha Cape Town by the Anti-Land Invasion Unit and metropolitan police.
In the statement, the Department outlines Minister Sisulu’s intentions to challenge the City of Cape Town in court for illegal evictions and provide permanent housing for 49 families currently in Empolweni. While the Minister’s efforts are welcomed, they fail to fully acknowledge the widespread nature of evictions and demolitions of poor and vulnerable households across the country during the COVID-19 lockdown.
These attacks have been ordered and carried out despite a moratorium on evictions during COVID‑19 alert levels 5, 4 and 3. These are gross violations and warrant the Minister’s urgent intervention. Various social justice organisations, including SERI, have made submissions to the National Command Council and the Minister, calling for the nation-wide moratorium on evictions to include a directive under the Disaster Management Act stating that for the duration of the National State of Disaster, no-one may demolish any structure which has been or is being constructed for the purposes of residential occupation on any land or in any building, without an order of the Court.
The Minister’s approach cannot be limited to any specific incident but should adopt a more proactive and programmatic stance. This will be critical as South Africa’s COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise. A home is the first line of defence against infection, it is essential to enabling people to protect themselves from contracting COVID‑19. The violent, callous and unlawful demolition of people’s homes is not only reprehensible but continues to frustrate the country’s objective to curb the spread of COVID-19.
We call on the Minister to address this as an issue of national importance and issue a directive to stop the demolition of homes by all municipalities.