On 05 July 2017, the Cape York building in Johannesburg caught fire again, killing 7 people and injuring 7 others. Fires in Inner City buildings and settlements without water, sanitation and electricity are not uncommon, and this is not the first fire in the Cape York building.

In 2013 the City of Johannesburg promised to seek the assistance of NGOs to accommodate those left destitute by a fire. A few months later, the City was ordered to clean up the Cape York building, to provide sanitation services and to ensure that it no longer continued to present a health hazard to neighbouring properties. Instead the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) and a contractor unlawfully evicted residents from the 5th to the 9th floor, demolishing their homes and removing all the windows.

The City has failed to provide meaningful solutions to help the poor who are inadequately housed in the Inner City of Johannesburg. Life threatening conditions in unmanaged, unregulated and un-serviced Inner City buildings must be addressed. Owners of these buildings must be brought to book by the City. Residents seeking basic services can no longer be turned away by the City because they are not property owners.  

  • Read the full press statement here
  • See short film on life in the inner city and the need for safe living conditions here


This month UKZN Press publishes a new book on land tenure called Untitled: Securing Land Tenure in Urban and Rural South Africa. It launches this week in Cape Town and next week in Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg.

On 6th July, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) is co-hosting the Johannesburg launch with UKZN Press and the NRF Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, Wits University. SERI’s director of litigation, Nomzamo Zondo, will be in conversation with one of the editors and authors and former director of research and advocacy at SERI, Lauren Royston. Monty Narsoo, independent human settlements specialist and Margot Rubin, co-author, will join them.

The book challenges the simple equation that a title deed equals tenure security and its apparently self-evident assumptions. It argues that two very different property paradigms characterise South Africa. The first is the dominant paradigm of private property, referred to as an ‘edifice’, against which all other property regimes are measured and ranked. However, the majority of South Africans gain access to land and housing through very different processes, which this book calls social or off-register tenures. These tenures are poorly understood, a gap Untitled aims to address.

The book reveals that ‘informal’ and customary property systems can be well organised, often providing substantial tenure security, but lack official recognition and support. This makes them difficult to service and vulnerable to elite capture. Policy interventions usually aim to formalise these arrangements by issuing title deeds. The case studies in this book, which span both rural and urban contexts in South Africa, examine these interventions and the unintended consequences they often give rise to. Interventions based on an understanding of locally embedded property relations are more likely to succeed than those that attempt to transform them into registered tenures. However, emerging practices hit intractable obstacles associated with the ‘edifice’, which only a substantial transformation of the legal paradigms can overcome.

The book is available at all good bookstores as well as via the online bookstores such as Loot, Takealot and Exclusives.

The Cape Town Launch is on Wednesday 28th June at the Book Lounge, 71 Roeland Street, Cape Town at 5.30 pm. Rosalie Kingwill and Ben Cousins, editors and authors, will be in discussion with Philile Ntuli.

The Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) will launch the book on Saturday 1st July at 9am at Project Gateway on 4 Burger Street. Donna Hornby, editor and author, will speak at this event.

The Johannesburg book launch is on Thursday 6th July at 5.30 pm at Wits University in the Humanities Graduate Centre, Ground Floor, Room 10, South West Engineering Building, East Campus.

SERI's Executive Director, Stuart Wilson will, on Tuesday, give a public lecture on property law reform in South Africa. The presentation will take place at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law in London. 

  • Download the full programme here

[MEDIA] City of Johannesburg not building enough alternative accommodation units (15 June 2017).

In this article, the Mail and Guardian considers the lack of alternative accommodation units in Johannesburg's inner city and reveal that the City is hopelessly underprepared to house the people that will be displaced as a result of evictions. SERI calls for an expansion in shelter facilities for people evicted from their homes and a programme of subsidised public rental housing for the poor. Inner city regeneration doesn’t work unless it works for everyone

Read the full article here 

The Western Cape High Court will today hear a challenge of the constitutionality of the Regulation of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993 (“Gatherings Act”) in an appeal against the judgment of a magistrates’ court. 

The matter arises as a result of a protest by members and supporters of the Social Justice Coalition outside the offices of the City of Cape Town (the City) Mayor, Ms Patricia de Lille, on 11 September 2013. Their grievances related to issues of poor sanitation for communities after lengthy engagements with the City. SERI represents the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the matter. The Special Rapporteur has been admitted as amicus curiae.

The protesters, among other things, chained themselves to the railings at the City’s Civic Centre. Upon police intervention, 21 protesters were arrested and charged under section 12(1)(a) of the) for unlawfully and intentionally convening a gathering without providing the relevant municipal authority with any notice that the gathering would take place.  In the alternative to the main charge, the accused were charged under section 12(1)(e) of the Gatherings Act for unlawfully and intentionally attending a gathering without notice and the required permission from the relevant authority.

The court will consider whether section 12(1)(a) of the Gatherings Act is unconstitutional for criminalizing conveners of an assembly of over 15 people if prior notice was not provided. SERI will urge the court to have regard to international law, standards and principles when considering the constitutionality of section 12(1)(a), and argue that holding organisers criminally liable for not providing notification or an inadequate notification is a restriction to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, which then must conform to international law, standards and principles. SERI will also argue that the number 16, as the only factor for when notice must be provided, is arbitrary and not proportionate.

  • Read more about the case here.

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