This is SERI's second newsletter of 2020. In it we present a few highlights from our work since May 2020. Since its inception, SERI has undertaken over 500 litigious matters on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people and provided non-litigious support to many more. Our ground-breaking research and advocacy has highlighted the lived realities of marginalised South Africans and surfaced solutions that could result in the fulfilment of their socio-economic rights. SERI’s litigation, research and advocacy assist communities to resist evictions and secure basic services in their homes in informal settlements and inner-city buildings. It further assists communities to hold duty bearers to account, to safeguard the right to protest and to defend the right to work.
The COVID-19 crisis and government’s response to it has brought SERI’s areas of work in “Securing a Home”, “Making a Living” and “Expanding Political Space” into sharp focus.
Municipalities have continued to carry out unlawful evictions using private security companies, Anti-Land Invasion Units, metropolitan police and the South African Police Services (SAPS).
Government’s response to COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the rights and livelihoods of informal and precarious workers. One of the most significant obstacles for domestic workers during the lockdown has been difficulty accessing government’s income protection measures. Due to pressure from SERI and other civil society organisations over the lockdown period, the Department of Labour and Employment made two significant amendments to the TERS directive making it possible for domestic workers to benefit from the scheme. This was a victory for South Africa’s domestic workers, albeit a short-term one.
Informal traders were not able to work at the beginning of lockdown and then only if they were trading in fresh (not cooked) food. Licensing requirements have been inconsistent across municipal areas and traders have received no support to implement public health measures. In eThekwini and Johannesburg local authorities refused to open markets while metropolitan police confiscated traders’ goods and harassed them.
The heavy-handed enforcement of lockdown regulations and the excessive use of force by the various security personnel underlined the urgent need for police accountability and the implementation of crucial reforms within the police.
SERI continues to embolden individuals, social movements and CBOs to use legal and research support to exercise their rights; to inform pro-poor government policy and practice and to inform and engage civil society.
We launched the second edition of the Slovo Park Community Practice Note, our latest policy brief on adequate temporary alternative accommodation and compiled a report on “Informal food system: Vendors, street vendors & spazas” for the C19 People’s Coalition Food Working Group, together with Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) and Asiye eTafuleni.
We helped defend the rights of eKhenana residents against illegal evictions during lockdown; successfully challenged the constitutionality of warrantless police raids in the homes of inner-city residents; and continue to challenge efforts by the City of Ekurhuleni to undermine the rights of Winnie Mandela residents. We have intervened as amicus in the Khosa case and represent Colenso women in appealing their conviction for participation in a non-violent protest.