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On Thursday, 23 April 2020, SERI in collaboration with Ndifuna Ukwazi, Lawyers for Human Rights, Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, Legal Resource Centre and ProBono.Org addressed a statement to the National Command Council, relevant Cabinet Ministers and respective Provincial Departments of Human Settlements.

The statement addresses the insufficient measures currently in place to safeguard against landlords disconnecting a tenant’s electricity and water connection during the lockdown. 

The organisations note, with concern, that evictions have continued during the national lockdown despite COVID-19 regulations explicitly prohibiting the eviction of people from their homes. 

“Since the beginning of the lockdown we have collectively received 82 reports and requests for assistance from persons being evicted or threatened with eviction by private landlords during this national lockdown. We note that these are cases that have been reported to this collective, it is likely that there are many more across the country. In some instances, the SAPS have been helpful in protecting tenants but this is not always the case. We are now also increasingly receiving reports that landlords have disconnected electricity and water or have threatened to disconnect water and electricity. The disconnection of electricity and water deprives a tenant of essential services which are needed to combat COVID-19 and significantly denudes the underlying reasons why a person’s home is considered their first line of defence.” 

To this end, the organisations call on the National Command Council and the relevant provincial and municipal task teams:

  • To suspend all water and electricity disconnections (even in instances where accounts are in arrears) until the lockdown is lifted.
  • To provide practical steps for recourse for people who have had their electricity and water disconnected to have same reconnected for the duration of the lockdown.
  • To direct all landlords to not disconnect a residential tenants’ electricity and water connection during the lockdown even in instances where there arrears including rental arrears and to ensure that the South African Police respond to assist tenants in instances where landlords do not follow the direction.
  • To ensure that all provincial Rental Housing Tribunals are operational and a public announcement is made on the processes through which complaints can be filed and investigated during the lockdown. In the event that the Rental Housing Tribunal cannot provide such services, we call for the provincial task teams to set up an alternative service in which rental housing complaints, which if not resolved during the lockdown would result in substantial injustice, can be filed and resolved.
  • That the interventions we have called for apply to all persons living in South Africa and not only to citizens. This is especially necessary to guard against discriminatory interventions and ensure that all are protected.

Read the full statement here.