Today in the Mail & Guardian SERI's executive director, Stuart Wilson, comments on the rights of farm dwellers and the recent Constitutional Court's decision in Baron v Claytile

The Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA) was adopted to protect farm dwellers. It recognises that their rights to live on commercial farmlands are precarious and seeks to promote long-term security of tenure. Evictions, if they happen, must be just, equitable and accompanied by the provision of “suitable alternative accommodation”. But the Constitutional Court failed to deploy the text of the statute, and decided that "near enough is good enough".

Stuart Wilson writes that this "is seldom true for poor and vulnerable people, whose lives often depend on a delicate, geographically particularised network of jobs and social services."

  • Read the full opinion piece here.
  • Read the Constitutional Court decision in Baron v Claytile here.

On 12 July SERI candidate attorney, Lwazi Mtshiyo, was interviewed on SABC Newsroom, where he discussed the recent groundbreaking Constitutional Court judgment in Occupiers of Erven 87 & 88 Berea v De Wet and Another ('Kiribilly')

  • Watch the interview (from 1:25:30 to 1:34:00) here.
  • Read more about the Constitutional Court judgment here.

Last week, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights delivered its decision in the case of M.B.D. et al. v. Spain (Communication No. 5/2015). In its decision, the Committee emphasised that evictions should not render individuals or families homeless and that States party are under an obligation to provide suitable alternative accommodation to individuals or families that would be rendered homeless during an eviction. In addition, the Committee stated that these legal protections apply to people living in rental accommodation (whether public or private).

On this basis, the Committee found that Spain had violated the right to housing of the complainants by not taking all appropriate measures to the maximum of its available resources to guarantee suitable alternative accommodation after their eviction.

SERI’s co-founder and chairperson, Jackie Dugard, contributed to an intervention in the case as part of the International Network on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net)’s Strategic Litigation Working Group. The intervention contained arguments based on international and comparative approaches to the right of access to adequate housing.

The Committee's decision comes after the South African Constitutional Court recently held that evictions that lead to homelessness are unlawful and that judges must make sure that people under threat of eviction are properly informed of their rights to contest eviction proceedings and claim alternative accommodation.

  • Download the Committee’s decision (in Spanish) here.
  • Read more about the case and ESCR-Net’s intervention here.
  • Read more about the Constitutional Court's recent judgment here.

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.

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