On 27 November 2019, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) hosted a seminar entitled, ‘The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: A Background, South Africa’s Country Report and a Response by the South African Human Rights Commission’. The purpose of the seminar was to advance awareness and understanding of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and to reflect on the Concluding Observations issued by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in response to South Africa’s initial report. The seminar also sought to unpack the role of the State in realising economic, social and cultural rights and the potential impact on the alleviation of poverty, inequality, and unemployment in South Africa. The seminar, held in Johannesburg, was attended by approximately 30 members of civil society and government officials.
The seminar began with a presentation by Professor Sandra Liebenberg, Vice-Chair of CESCR on the mandates and functions of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). This was followed by a panel presentation on the role of the Commission and civil society in monitoring the implementation of ICESCR, including Ms. Yuri Ramkissoon and Dr. Shanelle van der Berg (SAHRC); Ms. Gladys Mirungi-Mukundi (Dullah Omar Institute) and Ms. Nokukhanya Farise (International Commission of Jurists – ICJ).
Notably, Deputy Minister John Jeffery from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development joined the seminar via video conference. He spoke about the role of the State in implementing ICESCR and highlighted the progress achieved thus far including the Department hosting its first national colloquium on Access to Justice for Persons with Albinism, and its efforts in expediting the National Health Insurance Bill. The Deputy Minister also announced that the Department has plans to host a workshop on the implementation of the Concluding Observations where civil society organisations, government, and all relevant stakeholders will have an opportunity to meaningfully engage.
In like manner SERI, with the ICJ, hosted a workshop on the CESCR’s Concluding Observations in October 2019. The workshop focused on the Concluding Observations on the right to work and aimed to provide an orientation on the right to decent work as well as to facilitate a discussion on how the CESCR’s recommendations can be implemented and be used to further the advocacy strategies of the various precarious worker groups like informal traders, domestic workers, and waste reclaimers.
On 18 November 2019, SERI, in collaboration with members of the Steering Group of the South Africa’s Ratification Campaign of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and its Optional Protocol (the Coalition), made a submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.
As noted in the call for submissions, the Special Rapporteur has documented the nature and extent of the global housing crisis in her thematic and country visit reports. To assist States and other stakeholders to respond to the housing crisis, she has published draft Guidelines outlining key elements that underpin the effective implementation of the right to housing. These Guidelines will also inform the Special Rapporteur’s final report to the Human Rights Council.
The submission, endorsed by Black Sash; Development Action Group (DAG); Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape; People’s Health Movement South Africa (PHM-SA); the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS); Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR); Section27; the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI); Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII); Prof Jackie Dugard and Prof Lilian Chenwi from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, endorsed the draft Guidelines and noted that guidelines provide States with a framework to “address the challenges of informal settlements, homelessness, and insecure tenure”.
A few Guidelines were highlighted in particular:
The submission suggested that the Guidelines would be strengthened by making explicit the need for policies which promote spatial justice, including improved access for poor and low-income households to well-located accommodation, and improving access to social and economic opportunities. This implies emphasising the State’s responsibility to facilitate access to affordable public or private rental housing and transparency in the housing provision process.
“It is imperative that States focus on improving mechanisms for monitoring the progressive realisation of the right to housing, and clarify the respective powers and duties of different levels of government in implementing strategies to realise the right to adequate housing and to implement pro-poor and enabling regulation of private actors.”
On Friday 22 November, SERI director of litigation Nomzamo Zondo participated in a panel discussion entitled, “Violent Protest and Civil Society, Where to From Here?” hosted by the Right2Protest Project. The event was held at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Chalsty Auditorium. The purpose of the panel discussion was to reflect on the challenges to the right to protest, the nature of violent protest in South Africa and to explore what role civil society should be playing. The event was attended by approximately 60 people.
Nomzamo Zondo spoke on a panel alongside Adv. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, Right2Protest project coordinator Busisiwe Zasekhaya, and Right2Protest attorney Stanley Malematja. The discussion was facilitated by Dr. Tshepo Madlingozi, associate professor and director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS).
In her presentation, Nomzamo reflected on protest in light of SERI’s work in a number of cases including defending a group of 12 women from Colenso, KwaZulu-Natal who were arrested and detained while trying to engage their local municipality on community concerns; student activist Yolanda Dyantyi on matters concerning her participation in anti-rape protests at Rhodes University and on the events surrounding the Marikana massacre. The panelists all spoke about the misconceptions around protest in South Africa especially the notion that all protests are violent and a lack of acknowledgment of police brutality and violence in protests.
Last week, the Witness newspaper published an op-ed co-authored by SERI research and advocacy officer, Edward Molopi and Abahlali BaseMjondolo president, S’bu Zikode. The op-ed considers the impact of evictions on informal settlement residents and why the upgrading of informal settlements should be prioritised over evictions.
“A departure from a regime of evictions to one of widespread adoption of and implementation of the UISP is important in realising a more just and equitable society,” they argue.
An earlier version of this op-ed was published in the Mercury in October 2019.
Read the full op-ed here.
On Sunday, 27 October, SERI together with Artist Proof Studios and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon from the Anthropology department of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) hosted a workshop on protest and screen-printing for members of the Inner City Federation.
The workshop focused on using visual media and slogans to promote awareness around housing and gender rights in Johannesburg. In the workshop, ICF members were introduced to the use of art for protest and entailed a practical exercise where the participants applied their knowledge and produced slogans and posters for the ICF. Members of the ICF also had the opportunity to take the posters and slogans back to their communities. The posters and slogans produced will also be used in future protests.