On Thursday, 8 November 2018, SERI’s Director of Litigation, Nomzamo Zondo, joined Meshack van Wyk, MMC for Housing for the City of Johannesburg and Dr. Margot Rubin, Senior Researcher with National Research Foundation Research-Chair on Spatial Analysis and Planning at Wits University in a dialogue on inclusionary housing in the City of Johannesburg (the City).
The dialogue, hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Hanns Seidel Foundation, aimed to help attendees gain a better understanding of inclusionary housing in Johannesburg and coincided with the launch of the Mandela Initiative final report on Grappling with poverty and inequality, which discusses and offers recommendations for eliminating poverty and addressing inequality in South Africa.
The City of Johannesburg is currently finalising its inclusionary housing policy. The first version of the policy, released on 28 February 2018, proposed to create more affordable housing by requiring any property development in the City consisting of 10 or more dwelling units to include at least 20% inclusionary housing and capping rentals at R2, 100 per month (not including utility bills). SERI’s submission on the draft policy welcomed the City’s attempt to provide affordable housing for poor and low-income families but noted that the policy did not cater for households earning less than R3,200 a month and that the proposed rent-caps would require poor and low-income families to spend the majority of their household incomes on rent.
In her comments, Nomzamo Zondo stressed that any inclusionary housing policy must allow for the thousands of people already living in inner-city Johannesburg to be able to access decent, affordable housing.
On Sunday, 4 November 2018, Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon from the Anthropology department of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and SERI co-hosted a media workshop for members of the Inner City Federation (ICF). The workshop, held at the Wits University's Anthropology Museum, focused on introducing ICF members to various styles of writing for media and on strengthening the organisation’s advocacy skills. Adriana Miranda da Cunha of Santa Catarina State University in Brazil led a session to frame an inner city story; Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon led a session in which participants framed their story in different ways such as opinion editorials, features and media releases; Natasha Joseph of Conversation Africa (and former news editor at City Press) gave important insights on how to engage with the media, and social-media expert Lebohang Masango presented on how to best use Twitter and other forms of social media as ICF advocacy tools.
The ICF, founded in 2015, is a coalition of tenants and unlawful occupiers from over 40 buildings in inner-city Johannesburg that organise around shared struggles. It is comprised of two members from each building or building committee who attend monthly meetings and allows inner-city residents to share their experiences, build unity and solidarity, and functions as a platform for knowledge sharing. The workshop was designed to support the ICF’s initiatives to “take more power over your story by telling it yourself”.
On 29 October 2018, 53 tenants living in Plettenberg Mansions, an apartment building in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, have applied to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal an eviction order granted against them by the Johannesburg High Court after their landlord, a company called Lewray Investments (Pty) Ltd, sought to renovate the building. SERI represents the tenants.
The High Court granted an order evicting the tenants from their homes in on 23 May 2018 so that the landlord could pursue renovations at the property. Judge Adams granted the order on an urgent basis, in spite of the landlord's failure to cancel the tenants' leases and follow the eviction proceedings in terms of Prevention of Illegal Evictions and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act of 1998 (the PIE Act). The order was framed as a temporary measure, pending the landlord's refurbishment of the building after which the tenants would be permitted to re-occuy "their units" at the property. However, the landlord's refurbishment plans include subdividing the units that tenants were living in, rendering any new units much smaller than the tenants' initial homes. The tenants believe that the eviction is therefore "effectively a permanent eviction through the backdoor" because "their homes will be gone and replaced by new, substantially smaller dwelling units". As rent-paying tenants, their eviction is unlwaful as it conflicts with the Gauteng Unfair Practice Regulations (2001) in terms of the Rental Housing Act of 1999.
In October 2018, the Minister of Labour published the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Bill, 2018 for public comment. The Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 130 of 1993 (COIDA) so as “to provide coverage for domestic employees.” COIDA is a national law that provides for employees to claim compensation from the Compensation Fund for injuries, illnesses or diseases sustained in the course of their employment, or death resulting from such injuries or diseases. In its current form COIDA expressly excludes domestic workers from the definition of "employee" and precludes them from claiming from the Compensation Fund for work-related injuries, illnesses or death.
The amendment comes in the wake of a court challenge, brought by SERI along with a number of domestic workers, unions and civil society organisations, to COIDA's exclusion of domestic workers.
SERI represents Maria Mahlangu’s family in an application challenging the constitutionality of section 1 (xix)(v) of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act 130 of 1993 ("COIDA") to the extent that it excludes domestic workers employed in private households from the definition of "employee." Maria was a domestic worker who died in her employers home. Her family was subsequently informed by the Department of Labour that they could not be compensated for her death as domestic workers are not covered by COIDA.
The court challenge, which is due to be heard in the Pretoria High Court, has been temporarily put on hold awating a specially allocated date from the Deputy Judge President of the High Court. Any interested and affected parties are encouraged to submit written representations on the proposed amendments within 60 days of the publication of the notice (18 October 2018).
Between 17 and 19 October 2018, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha, presented a new report on informal settlements and human rights to the UN General Assembly in New York City. The report finds that informal settlements present a critical human rights challenge: On the one hand, informal settlements represent a "systemic human rights violation" that arises as a result of state action, inaction or policy; and on the other hand, informal settlements "are often an incredible accomplishment, a profound expression of individuals, families and communities claiming their place and their rights to housing". Her report urges states to adopt a rights-based appoach to informal settlements by urgently upgrading informal settlements in situ and avoiding relocations or evictions (except in exceptional circumstances where such relocations would be unavoidable). As she writes:
"The world has come to accept the unacceptable. It is a human rights imperative that informal settlements be upgraded to meet the basic standards of human dignity."
The report follows a data gathering process in terms of which the Special Rapporteur invited interested parties to furnish her with relevant information on informal settlements and human rights from their countries. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), in collaboration with the Steering Group of the South Africa’s Ratification Campaign of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol (the Campaign) and some individual experts, made a submission on informal settlements and human rights in South Africa on 22 May 2018 (the submission was written by SERI's Michael Clark, Maanda Makwarela and Daiyaan Halim, SERI board member and professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, Lillian Chenwi, and the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights (DOI)'s Gladys Mirugi-Mukundi).
The Special Rapporteur relied on SERI and the Campaign's submission throughout her report. In particular, she strongly voiced her support for the South African courts' approach to informal settlements as articulated in the case of Melani and the Further Residents of Slovo Park Informal Settlement v City of Johannesburg (a case in which SERI represented the residents of the Slovo Park informal settlement). As the Special Rapporteur wrote in her report:
"The approach taken by the South African courts moves in the right direction and should be applied by other courts. In the Melani case, the Slovo Park informal settlement challenged the decision of the City of Johannesburg not to apply for in situ upgrading and instead to relocate the community to an alternative location 11 km away.The court held that the Government’s upgrading policy, as required by the constitutional right to housing, envisages 'a holistic development approach with minimum disruption or distortion of existing fragile community networks and support structures and encourages engagement between local authorities and residents living within informal settlements'.Relocation must be 'the exception and not the rule' and any relocation must be to a location 'as close as possible to the existing settlement'.On this basis, the City was ordered to reverse the decision to relocate the community and apply for funding for in situ upgrading."