Three new working papers on the rights to housing, water and sanitation, commissioned by the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR), have recently been published. The papers are part of a series of papers that aim to examine how far the realisation of socio-economic rights (and related enabling rights) have advanced in South Africa since the advent of democracy.
The papers on the rights to housing, water and sanitation each provide a human rights analysis of the right in question in the South African context by reviewing the legal, policy and functional frameworks governing the right, and undertaking a rights-based fault-line analysis of systemic problems with the realisation of the right. The papers have been published individually and collectively in a publication entitled, Socio-Economic Rights: Progressive Realisation?
The papers were researched and written by various SERI staff members, including Jackie Dugard (chairperson of SERI’s Board of Directors and former SERI researcher), Michael Clark (SERI research associate), Kate Tissington (former SERI researcher) and Stuart Wilson (SERI executive director).
SERI is delighted to welcome Tshepo Skosana to the team. Tshepo holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and is currently completing his Master of Laws (LLM) with the same institution.
He has interests in public interest litigation and strongly holds onto the notion that ‘Justice will prevail.’
We are excited about having him on board and look forward to his contribution to our work.
On 21 December 2017, the Daily Maverick published an opinion piece written by Sumeya Gasa, an investigative journalist working with the Wits Justice Project, about SERI's recent research report, entitled A Double Harm: Police Misuse of Force and Barriers to Necessary Health Care Services (October 2017), which documents the injuries caused by the disproportionate and unlawful use of force by police officers called in to disperse campus-based protest at the University of the Witwatersrand in September to November 2016. The report also deals with the attempts to provide medical assistance to injured protestors, and documents cases in which these efforts were obstructed.
A number of particularly concerning misuses of force took place while police tried to enforce a university-wide curfew. The opinion piece reiterates the report's findings and details further misuses of force. Gasa concludes,
"SERI’s report observes that the presence of police during FMF protests has resulted in long-term trauma – both physical and psychological – rendering public spaces unsafe for protesting individuals and bystanders alike. While the new police commissioner has resolved to remedy the relationship between the police force and the public it aims to serve, only time will tell if this consideration is extended towards the constitutionally enshrined right to protest."
The North Gauteng High Court today ordered the Ekurhuleni Municipality to build 133 houses for the residents of the Winnie Mandela Informal Settlement near Tembisa.
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 breached the residents’ constitutional and statutory housing rights. Ekurhuleni, Judge Teffo held, knew that the housing allocation process was marred by fraud and mismanagement, but failed to ensure that the residents were provided with the houses they were entitled to. The residents have been living in shacks for several years as a result, often receiving municipal accounts for houses they could not move into, because they had been allocated to other, unknown people.
Judge Teffo held that Ekurhuleni had overseen a corrupt and deeply compromised housing allocation process that denied the residents the benefit of their subsidies. This, Judge Teffo decided, breached the residents’ right to housing in the Constitution and the laws and policies that have been adopted by the government to give effect to those rights.
Ekurhuleni was ordered to build each of the residents a house at Tembisa Extension 25, or at another agreed location, by no later than 31 December 2018. Ekurhuleni was also ordered to form a committee with the residents to engage with them on the progress of the construction project. Ekurhuleni was also ordered to pay the residents’ legal costs.
Today the Business Day published an op-ed by, SERI researchers, Tiffany Ebrahim and Edward Molopi, and Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) attorney, Zeenat Sujee, regarding the Constitutional Court's momentous decision to declare the City of Johannesburg (the City)'s emergency shelter rules unconstitutional.
In 2010, in accordance with an order of the Constitutional Court, the City provided unlawful occupiers living in a commercial building on Saratoga Avenue in Johannesburg’s inner-city alternative accommodation at Ekuthuleni, a homeless shelter managed by Metropolitan Evangelical Services (MES). The accommodation at the shelter was conditional on a number controversial and degrading house rules, including a day-time lock out rule (residents were locked out of the shelter during the day and were only allowed to re-enter between 5:30 in the afternoon and 8 o’clock at night), rules that meant that families could not live together (residents lived in gender segregated dormitory style rooms, which meant that married couples and life partners were separated from each other) and rules that limited the privacy of residents. The City intended on rolling out the shelter model as a preferred model for providing emergency shelter to occupiers who were rendered homeless as a result of evictions or other emergencies.
The Constitutional Court declared the shelter rules "cruel, condescending and degrading" and found that the rules infringed the residents' rights to dignity, freedom and security of the person and privacy.
Ebrahim, Molopi and Sujee write that the shelter rules had a disproportionately negative effect on women. They state that:
"Segregated living spaces run the risk of limiting female access to information and decision-making processes. Information sharing that remains between men disadvantages women from making an equal contribution."
They conclude that although the Constitutional Court did not not reference the gendered dimensions of housing or, indeed, the resident’s housing rights, there is a possibility that the outcome will have a positive impact on women, children and families living in shelters.