The City of Ekurhuleni is appealing a December 2017 decision where the North Gauteng High Court ordered the municipality to build 133 houses for the residents of the Winnie Mandela Informal Settlement near Tembisa.
In the judgment, handed down on 15 December 2017, judge Mmonoa Teffo found that Ekurhuleni had failed to provide the residents with houses that were constructed with their government-approved housing subsidies. The houses were instead occupied by other, unknown people, often as a result of corruption in the housing allocation process, which Ekurhuleni controls. This, the court found, breached the residents’ constitutional and statutory housing rights.
The municipality contends that the High Court should have ordered it to treat the residents just like thousands of other people who were waiting for housing at a new development it says will be ready “subject to funding availability” in 2021.
This position is based on the misconception that the essence of the breach of the residents’ rights was in the municipality’s “unreasonable delay in constructing houses for the residents”. This is, however, untrue as the essence of the breach is in fact that houses were actually constructed, but were not given to the residents, for whom they were intended. The houses were instead given to other people no-one can identify.
The matter will be heard on a preferential basis on 2 May 2018 in the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), in partnership with the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, will host two half-day short courses for journalists on various aspects of land reform. These half-day workshops seek to clear the muddy waters around land reform, and equip journalists with the tools to interrogate both land reform policies and the various statements politicians, activists, farmers and others make about land reform.
The workshop seeks to clarify issues around the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ principle, land expropriation, urban land reform, budgets for land acquisition and farmer support, farm evictions, women’s land rights, traditional leaders and traditional councils, foreign land ownership and more. The workshop will also provide journalists with useful reference material to use when covering land reform issues, and ideas about key land reform questions that are not being answered by current land reform policy and practice. In each area, we will aim to provide background to the controversial issues; what was meant to be done (legal and policy requirements); what has actually been done (implementation and outcomes); the spectrum of options and opinions; and ideas for media stories and questions to be addressed.
The workshops will be held at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town on 16 April 2018, and at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg on 19 April 2018.
The course will be presented by Ruth Hall and Ben Cousins (from PLAAS) and Lauren Royston (from SERI).
On 11 April 2018, SERI's director of litigation, Nomzamo Zondo, appeared on SABC's Morning Live to discuss the need for safe temporary alternative accommodation in inner-city Johannesburg in the wake of the recent wall collapse of a building at 39 to 41 Davies Street in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, in which three children died.
Zondo discussed the concerning and often dangerous conditions that many occupiers living in inner-city buildings are forced to deal with on a daily basis. She noted that
"[a]bandoned buildings have become progressively worse [since the 1990s]. Most of them have little or no sanitation, there is sometimes no power, there is limited access to water ... we're concerned about the risk of fires, we're worried about children falling into lift shafts that are unmaintained..."
When asked how these challenges could be addressed, Zondo said:
"Our main problem with the City of Johannesburg is that it has refused to provide accommodation without being ordered by a court to do so ... it has acknowledged that there is a housing crisis... People who earn below R3 200 [a month] have no other place where they can rent in the formal market [including state-subsidised social housing] in safe and decent accommodation."
Zondo said that although the City plans to roll out low-cost accommodation and temporary emergency accommodation, there is virtually none available at present.
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) is aware of the statements made by Herman Mashaba and Tony Turison, of the City of Johannesburg, to the effect that SERI has “obstructed” its efforts to address the needs of occupiers of bad buildings, by refusing to make our staff available to assist it in surveying the occupants of those buildings.
These allegations are false. In the case of the building at 39 to 41 Davies Street, Johannesburg, which partially collapsed this week, the City did, in fact, conduct an audit of the occupiers and their personal circumstances. In July 2017, the City also compiled a report for Mayor Mashaba recommending that the residents of the building be found alternative accommodation. But nothing was done.
In the cases of all other buildings in which SERI has clients, it is, in fact, SERI that first draws the City’s attention to the needs and identities of the occupiers of unsafe buildings.
In response to proceedings brought to evict the residents, SERI compiles a list of the occupiers and sets out their needs and circumstances in affidavits that are then provided to the City. The City is then asked to provide alternative accommodation. Where the City requires another registration process (as it sometimes does), we ensure that our clients attend that process.
Once these registration processes are complete, our clients wait for alternative accommodation. Most of our clients, like the residents of 29 to 31 Davies Street, have been waiting for the City to provide that accommodation for many months, often many years.
There is not a single instance in which the City has actually provided alternative accommodation, unless SERI or another public interest NGO, has gone to court to force the City to make the accommodation available. Approximately 1000 residents of unsafe buildings have been rehoused in this way since 2008.
The truth is that the City never acts on its own. It is SERI, and other organisations like the Legal Resources Centre, Lawyers for Human Rights and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, that have obtained court orders that have forced the City to act to provide residents of unsafe buildings with the accommodation they so desperately need.
Far from obstructing the City, “so-called” human rights lawyers, and our clients, are the only reason the City ever does anything for poor people living in unsafe buildings in Johannesburg’s inner city.
The families living in an abandoned building at 39 to 41 Davies Street in Doornfontein, which partially collapsed today, killing three children, had been asking the City of Johannesburg for emergency accommodation for eight months. But none was provided.
SERI represents the residents of 39 to 41 Davies Street, in which three children were tragically killed when a wall collapsed on them this afternoon. The residents have been aware that the building is unsafe for some time. Since mid-2017, SERI has been pressing the City of Johannesburg to provide the residents with emergency accommodation, which would have allowed them to move out of the dangerous building to safer accommodation elsewhere.
In July 2017, City officials produced a report for Mayor Herman Mashaba strongly recommending that the residents be provided with alternative accommodation. The City did an audit of the residents in August 2017. Yet, for 8 months thereafter, the City has taken no steps to provide the residents with a safe alternative. The residents were left in unsafe accommodation as a result.
The residents are just 300 of an estimated 100 000 people living in abandoned properties in the inner-city of Johannesburg, many in unsafe conditions. The occupiers of these properties are forced to live in abandoned buildings because they cannot afford to rent or buy housing on the private market, and the City has failed to provide affordable rental housing or shelter accommodation for them.
The City has a constitutional duty to provide the residents of 39 to 41 Davies Street, and people like them, with affordable, safe alternative accommodation, but has consistently failed to do so. The City’s plans are to provide a mere 364 new beds in temporary accommodation this year. That is a tiny fraction of what is required to cater for poor people living in Johannesburg’s abandoned buildings.
SERI calls on the City to immediately re-accommodate the residents of 39 to 41 Davies Street in safe, decent and affordable accommodation.