Human rights lawyers have recently been criticised on various platforms. SERI's Stuart Wilson has written a response in the Daily Maverick arguing that these criticisms miss the point, and that it is the experiences of the communities who approach those lawyers for assistance which should be our focus.
Wilson highlights SERI's recently launched a new series of short films, Fighting for a Living, as an example of such a focus. The films document the experiences of communities struggling for adequate housing in Johannesburg's inner city, the aftermath of the 2012 Marikana massacre, as well as some of the implications of Operation Clean Sweep in 2013.
Newly elected Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, yesterday made it clear that he will be prioritising the removal of occupiers of abandoned buildings in the inner city. He went on to suggest that "so-called human rights lawyers have used the courts to keep these people under these conditions to the benefit of the slumlords.”
Stuart Wilson has penned a response to Mashaba in the Daily Maverick where he argues that "courts have decided that the municipality ought to pay its fair share of those social costs of inner city regeneration, by providing the most basic form of accommodation necessary to protect the poorest of its citizens from a life on the streets. The City’s inability to remove poor people from unsafe inner city housing springs from its refusal to provide this accommodation – not from anything the poor, the courts or human rights lawyers have done."
The Grahamstown High Court today dismissed Rhodes University’s application for an order regulating student protest on its campus. The University wanted to finalise an interim order it was granted in April this year, when a group of at least 200 students started a spontaneous protest against what they say is a culture of rape and sexual violence at Rhodes.
Rhodes sought a wide-ranging final order clamping down on protests against rape and sexual violence, despite admitting that they are “prevalent” on its campus. The interim order effectively prohibited any attempt to picket its campus and buildings, banned any comment that might unlawfully damage the University’s reputation and restrained any conduct that might affect the “psychological and mental well-being” of its staff and students. Rhodes obtained the interim order against a large and unidentifiable group of people, including anyone “associated with” these activities on its campus.
Acting on behalf of three Rhodes students, and a group of concerned academic staff, SERI opposed the finalization of the order. The High Court substantially upheld SERI’s contentions. It held that “mass protest continues to be an important form of political engagement”, playing an essential role in any democracy. The court also held that the interim order clearly infringed constitutional rights, and described aspects of the interim order as “patently inappropriate”.
Dennis Webster has written a blog for the Huffington Post in the wake of CSAAWU's Robertson Winery strike, and in the midst of the ongoing Robertson Abattoir trial, where SERI represents 39 dismissed workers.
Webster suggests that the struggles of workers in the Western Cape agricultural sector receive very little middle class solidarity and media attention, which compromises the hard won victories of workers on the ground. He argues that,
"while another battle has been won, it must be remembered that the struggle will be long and exacting, and will be fought on multiple fronts if there is to be any chance of meaningful success. In the long-term, large landholdings will need to be broken apart and redistributed to the people who work them and the state. Liberalisation and de-regulation at the macro-economic level, which are the chief culprits of retrenchments on the ground, will have to be abandoned. The role of supermarkets, whose price-cutting drives wages down, in perpetuating the working conditions on Western Cape farms will also need to be seriously interrogated. In the short-term, farm owners and managers must be held to account for unfair labour and housing practices."
Lauren Royston will speak at a a round table discussion tomorrow in parliament, organised by the parliamentary High Level Panel. The round table is broadly concerned with urban evictions and tenure security, and Royston will discuss urban tenure and informal settlements in particular, drawing on a PLAAS commissioned paper which SERI has contributed to. The paper is a critique of urban tenure policies and legislation and highlights key points of convergence or disagreement.