In a judgment handed down today, the Constitutional Court was unanimous in finding that the rules separating the residents’ families and locking them out during the day were in breach of the Constitution.

The Constitutional Court said that the City of Johannesburg committed a “monumental irregularity” in breaching the rights of 11 poor people to whom it provided temporary accommodation after they were evicted 5 years ago. The City provided the former residents of Saratoga Avenue, Johannesburg, accommodation at the Ekuthuleni Shelter in Johannesburg’s inner city in 2012. But when they got to the shelter, the residents were split up from their families into men’s and women’s dormitories – even if they were married or had children of the opposite sex. They were also locked out of the shelter during the day under the shelter rules. The residents objected to being separated from their families, and to being locked out of their homes during the day. They approached SERI, who took up their case and asked the Constitutional Court to declare the shelter rules invalid.

SERI argued that the rules had a profoundly negative effect on the residents’ dignity. Those residents on nightshifts were forced to work at night, but were prevented from sleeping at the shelter during the day: they were effectively denied any access to the shelter whatsoever. Married couples separated by gender said that the imposition of the rules “felt like a divorce”. Children coming back from the dentist during the day found themselves locked out of the shelter, in pain and unable to rest. Some of the residents who were locked out of the shelter were assaulted on the streets and could not return to the shelter for rest and protection. One of the locked-out residents was stabbed.

The Court struck the rules down and interdicted the City from applying them to the residents for the rest of their stay at the shelter.

  • Read the full press statement here.
  • Read more about the case here.

SERI has published its annual review, covering the period July 2016 to June 2017. The review details SERI's research, litigation and advocacy work over the past year in our thematic areas of Securing a Home, Making a Living, and Expanding Political Space. The review also includes SERI's financial statements for the period.

  • Download SERI's annual review for the period July 2016 to June 2017 here.

Annual Review2017

On 27 November 2017, SERI filed heads of argument in an application for leave to appeal the judgment of the Durban High Court that dismissed an informal settlement resident's damages claim for the injuries he sustained while protecting his shack from being illegally demolished by a security officer in the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality's land invasion unit, as well as the destruction of his shack.

In this case, SERI represents Nkosinathi Mngomezulu, a resident of Cato Crest informal settlement in Durban, who claims damages for the physical injuries he sustained when a security officer in the municipality's land invasion unit shot him in the stomach four times, as well as for the unlawful destruction of his shack and his unlawful arrest and detention on charges of assault and attempted murder. The claims are based on the municipality's land invasion unit's illegal demolition of Mngomezulu and various other Cato Crest residents' shacks in September 2013. At the time, a series of court orders restrained the municipality from evicting any person or demolishing any shack at Cato Crest informal settlement (see the Mzimela case). While physically resisting this demolition, Mngomezulu was shot four times by a security officer in the municipality's land invasion unit. Then, after recovering for more than three months in hospital, Mngomezulu was arrested and detained initially on charges of assault and later on charges of atttempted murder.

The Durban High Court upheld Mngomezulu's claim for unlawful arrest and detention, ordering the Minister of Safety and Security to compensate Mngomezulu for the infringement of his rights, but dismissed Mngomezulu's claim for personal injury and the unlawful destruction of his shack. SERI, on behalf of Mngomezulu, applied for leave to appeal this decision on the basis that the court's finding that an informal settlement resident does not have a home in an informal settlement because he or she cannot give a precise address is naive to the realities faced by poor and vulnerable people in South Africa, and that the court's finding that Mngomezulu “violated the rule of law” by defending himself against an illegal eviction cannot be legally supported.

The application for leave to appeal was argued in the Durban High Court on 29 November 2017. On this day, Judge Pillay granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).

  • Read the Heads of Argument (27 November 2017) here.
  • Read more about the case here.

On 21 November, the Parliamentary High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundemantal Change (the High Level Panel) delivered its report to the Speaker of Parliament at a special meeting at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. The panel, which is headed by former President Kgalema Motlanthe, was established by the South African Parliament to assess the impact of legislation passed by Parliament and Provincial Legislatures since the advent of democracy in 1994 and, particular, the effectiveness of legislative measures to address the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, land reform, and social cohesion. The panel consisted of 17 experts with recognised competence and expertise in the abovementioned issues.

SERI was involved in the work of the panel last year, when SERI contributed to a report on urban tenure security and informal settlements commissioned by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape. SERI's senior associate, Lauren Royston, also participated in a round-table, organised by the High Level Panel, to address evictions in urban areas and tenure insecurity. In addition, SERI's senior research associate, Michael Clark, co-authored the commissioned report on communal land tenure.

  • Read more about SERI's participation in the work of the High Level Panel here.
  • Read the full report of the High Level Panel here and the executive summary here.
  • Read all of the commissioned reports here.

Frome 16-18 November 2017, a number of staff members from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) are in New York at New York University’s Kimmel Centre, co-hosting a workshop with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) entitled Seeking Justice in Adversity: Voices from South Africa and the United States. The aim of the workshop, which is funded by the Bertha Foundation, is to bring together lawyers, activists, and academics from the United States and South Africa to consider the use of law to protect and enhance the political spaces necessary to protect basic civil rights, and defend hard-won socio-economic rights gains made in the recent past.

The workshop aims to build alliances across the United States and South Africa, and to provide the opportunity to learn from experiences of struggle across the two jurisdictions. It also aims to facilitate the development of a shared vocabulary to consider the similarities and differences between South Africa and the United States’ experiences of systemic racism and violence. Finally, the workshop aims to build strategies and tactics that will enable further action by movements and movement lawyers.

SERI's Stuart Wilson, Nomzamo Zondo, Irene de Vos, Mmoloki Martin Mosweu and Michael Clark are attending the workshop.

  • Access the programme for the workshop here.

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