In 2018, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing announced her intention to devote her forthcoming report to the UN General Assembly to the issue of informal settlements and human rights. She published an invitation for interested parties to furnish her with relevant information on informal settlements and human rights from their countries.

In terms of this invitation 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 includes statistical data on the number of people living in informal settlements in South Africa, information on the profound inequalities in access to basic services in informal settlements, information on the environmental, health and safety concerns facing informal settlement residents, and information on the legal and policy framework governing informal settlements in South Africa. The submission may therefore be a useful resource on the challenged facing informal settlement residents in South Africa.

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. Black Sash, the Dullah Omar Institute, the People's Health Movement of South Africa (PHM-SA) and the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) undersigned the submission. 

  • Read the UN Special Rapporteur's questionnaire on informal settlements and human rights here.
  • Read the joint submission on informal settlements in South Africa (May 2018) here.


SERI has launched a case on behalf of the residents of 11 buildings in inner-city Johannesburg challenging the lawfulness and constitutionality of over 20 police raids of their homes conducted at the behest of the Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, between 30 June 2017 and 3 May 2018.

During the raids, which were jointly conducted by the South African Police Services (SAPS), the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), the Department of Home Affairs and the City of Johannesburg, officials forced the residents out of the buildings and onto the streets, sometimes in their nightdresses, where they were searched, finger-printed and commanded to produce copies of their identity documents, passports or asylum seekers’ permits. Anyone who was unable to produce their identity document was detained. Some South African citizens who could not produce their identity documents were arrested because, according to one official, they “looked too dark” to be South African. The majority of those that were arrested were never charged. They were released after a day or two at most.

The residents of each of the 11 buildings on behalf of which SERI acts are involved in court proceedings against the City of Johannesburg in terms of which the residents seek temporary emergency housing from the City (so that they will not be rendered homeless as a result of evictions). During the raids, residents have been told that they should “get out” of the building or face eviction. In some cases, those playing a leading role in obtaining legal representation to challenge evictions were targeted and arrested as “building hijackers”.

Nomzamo Zondo, SERI director of litigation, said: “The City of Johannesburg is using these police raids to harass, intimidate and threaten poor people who are challenging them. The raids are not meant to genuinely address any criminal activity. The actions of the City and the Police are unlawful and unconstitutional and the residents now seek to vindicate their rights in court.”

  • Read the full statement here.
  • Read more about the case and find all the papers here.

WHAT: On 22 May 2018, the North West High Court found Marikana housing and land rights activist, Napoleon Webster not guilty of murdering Petrus Sabata, who was killed at Marikana on 8 December 2016. Webster has always maintained that the charges against him were politically motivated and were not based on any reasonable suspicion that he had committed any offence. He was subsequently found not guilty by the Court after the prosecution failed to produce any credible evidence that linked Webster to the death of Sabata. Webster will brief the press on the charges against him, his trial and acquittal and concerns about the politicisation of the police and the criminal justice system. Joining the press conference will be, Lindokuhle Mdabe (attorney at SERI) and Nomzamo Zondo (SERI’s director of litigation).

WHEN: Thursday, 24 May at 10:00 to 11:30.

WHERE: SERI’s Conference Room, 6th floor Aspern House, 54 De Korte Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

WHO: Napoleon Webster (Marikana housing and land rights activist), Lindokuhle Mdabe (SERI attorney) and Nomzamo Zondo (SERI Director of Litigation)

  • Download the full statement here
  • Read more on the case and access the court papers here.

On 22 May 2018, the North West High Court discharged Marikana housing and land rights activist, Napoleon Webster. Justice Ronnie Hendricks found Webster not guilty of murdering Petrus Sabata, who was killed at Marikana on 8 December 2016. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) represented Webster during the trial.

The court discharged Webster and found him not guilty after the prosecution failed to produce any evidence that linked Webster to the death of Sabata. Prosecutors ultimately conceded that Webster was entitled to an acquittal, and accepted that the State had failed to “establish [Webster’s] involvement” in the murder. The State also accepted that the witnesses who implicated Webster had testified out of malice and lacked any credibility.

Despite there being no evidence that Webster committed any offence, he was detained in a Rustenburg prison in 2017 for over 202 days after the Rustenburg Magistrates’ Court refused his bail application. 

Throughout the bail proceedings and the trial, there was strong evidence that Webster was arrested because of his community-based activism in Marikana and not on the basis of any reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence. Webster has been an active supporter of the victims of the Marikana massacre and was a consistent presence at the proceedings of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. 

Lindokuhle Mdabe, an attorney at SERI who acted for Webster, said: “The State’s failure to produce any evidence linking Napoleon Webster to this offence is clear evidence that this prosecution was brought, not to punish crime, but to stifle legitimate dissent in Marikana. The prosecution, and the way it has been pursued, is yet another example of the abuse of the criminal justice system in aid of silencing the real and legitimate grievances of people living in poor communities across South Africa.”

  • Read SERI’s full press statement (22 May 2018) here.
  • Read more about the case and access the papers here.

On 9 May 2018, SERI research associate, Michael Clark, delivered a lecture on spatiality, power and powerlessness in the city to a group of approximately ten post-graduate students at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria (the university). The lecture formed part of a programme on Leadership in Urban Transformation, a one-year programme aimed at faith-based practitioners completing their Masters in Practical Theology at the university.

The lecture aimed to assist the group of post-graduate students in understanding the issues related to spatial (in)justice, the powers that create or reproduce spatial inequalities, and the range of civic responses to spatial inequality (including organising, participating in local government decision-making processes, occupation and litigation). The lecture was based on various SERI research publications, including Edged Out: Spatial Mismatch and Spatial Justice in South Africa's Main Urban Areas (November 2016), Evictions and Alternative Accommodation in South Africa 2000-2016: An Analysis of the Jurisprudence and Implications for Local Government 2 ed (February 2016), and Minding the Gap: An Analysis of the Supply of and Demand for Low-Income Rental Accommodation in Inner City Johannesburg (November 2013).

  • Download the Edged Out report here.
  • Download the Evictions and Alternative Accommodation in South Africa report here.
  • Download  the Minding the Gap report here.


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