A Research handbook on economic, social and cultural rights as human rights which was recently published is co-edited by SERI board members Jackie Dugard and Lilian Chenwi. The Research Handbook "offers an authoritative analysis of standards and jurisprudence" and "ultimately argues that "a robust, reinforced approach and practice is needed to meet the human rights challenges of the 2020s".
"Contested and marginalized in legal research, the field of economic, social and cultural rights has experienced a bloom in scholarly attention over the past ten years. With contributions by leading scholars and practitioners, this Research Handbook represents an up-to-date and in-depth analysis of the most salient mechanisms, doctrines and cross-cutting issues in the field. It constitutes an indispensable resource for policy-makers, scholars and advocates interested in the contribution of human rights to the eradication of poverty and inequality."
– Professor Sandra Liebenberg, HF Oppenheimer Chair in Human Rights Law, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa and Vice President, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Part I of the Handbook includes a chapter on 'The international human rights system' by Jackie Dugard which provides a historical and contextual evolution of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) and the protection mechanisms provided by the various key international legal instruments and institutions. The chapter on 'The African system' by Lilian Chenwi provides an analysis of the existing human rights framework of ESCR by considering the various regional legal instruments and institutions that make up the African human rights system, relative to their mechanisms of enforcement.
Part II of the Handbook on the content of the different rights includes a chapter on 'The right to adequate housing' written by Stuart Wilson which considers the right to adequate housing in international law and includes analysis of key areas of contestation which illustrate how the right has been developed and applied in some domestic contexts including the South African context. In it, Wilson argues that,
"when concrete social struggles have reached international, regional and domestic adjudicative bodies, especially but not exclusively in South Africa, the right to adequate housing has found its greatest traction in challenges to existing property rights. It is in struggles over the upgrading of informal settlements, the eviction of illegal occupiers, the rights of residential tenants in urban areas, the rights of mortgagors and the struggles of women to access housing through, and despite, patriarchal accounts of property law, that the right to adequate housing has sharpened its teeth."
Wilson goes on to write that,
"Given the scale of housing need internationally, and given also that so much economic inequality expresses itself in skewed distributions of land, housing and property, there can be little doubt that meeting the scope and providing the content of the right to adequate housing implies a substantial revision of existing property relationships in a wide variety of contexts. It also implies a substantial redistribution of land, property and, ultimately, wealth. The right to adequate housing is, in many respects, a manifesto for a just and equal society."
On 18 February 2021, SERI will be in the Constitutional Court representing the residents of the Winnie Mandela informal settlement in an application to seek constitutional damages for ongoing breach of their constitutional rights of access to adequate housing.
Over three years ago, the High Court ordered Ekurhuleni Municipality to build houses for 133 informal settlement residents whose subsidised RDP units had been stolen from them. The residents have decided to sue the Ekurhuleni Municipality for constitutional damages, after the municipality missed a court-ordered deadline to replace the residents’ stolen houses. SERI has taken a decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) not to award constitutional damages to the Constitutional Court and is seeking R5,000 per resident for every month that the municipality failed to provide them with the houses from 30 June 2019.
On 28 January 2021, SERI’s Alana Potter joined a press conference for the #PayTheGrants Campaign calling for the extension and increase of the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) Grants to at least R585-00 in line with the food poverty line. The press conference was hosted by Black Sash, C19 People’s Coalition Cash Transfers Working Group and the Institute of Economic Justice (IEJ). Potter spoke alongside affected grant claimants, Zwelinzima Vavi, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, and social justice activists.
The #PayTheGrants Campaign joint statement calls for:
In SERI’s statement, Alana spoke, in support of the joint statement, about the critical importance of ensuring that there is a continuation and increase of unconditional cash transfers to people as a bridge to a basic income grant. Given the devastating impact the pandemic has had the livelihoods of informal and precarious workers, Alana argued that the cash grant was vital for ensuring that people do not go hungry because they would ensure that local markets and informal traders can start trading again.
The informal sector is critical in generating livelihoods, providing food security, and for reducing poverty. Informal traders, for example, do not only make food accessible, but they also maximise economic and ownership opportunities, creating multiplier effects into local communities they are part of.
Alana noted that civil society and a range of CSOs have mobilised to generate valuable evidence advocating for strengthening the informal economy by:
Dineo Phalane joined SERI in 2021 as a Candidate Attorney. Prior to this, Dineo worked as a field worker on numerous SERI cases and projects since 2018. She holds BA (Political Studies and Philosophy) and LLB degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). During her time at Wits she served in the Law School Council subcommittee as well as the Student Representative Council subcommittee. Dineo’s growing interest in the effective recognition and implementation human rights was sparked by her own lived reality and her exposure to SERI’s work.
Tebogo joined SERI as a Candidate Attorney in 2021 after having previously worked as a Research Intern in July 2020. She holds a BA Law and Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand. She is currently pursuing a Postgraduate Diploma in Human rights Advocacy and Litigation at the same university. She also has interests in pursuing an LLM looking into the impact of service delivery cases in addressing the harsh reality that is faced by the majority black population in South Africa.
In it we present a few highlights from our work since our last newsletter in September. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, SERI continues to embolden individuals, social movements and CBOs to use legal and research support to exercise their rights and to inform pro-poor government policy and practice.
In November, the Constitutional Court handed down a ground-breaking judgment ending the exclusion of domestic workers from the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 1993 (COIDA). Also in November, SERI represented inner-city Johannesburg residents in the Constitutional Court, challenging a part of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 that allowed for warrantless raids that were conducted on their homes. SERI also appeared before the Western Cape High Court in November on behalf of Abahlali baseMjondolo who intervened as amicus curiae in a matter challenging the City of Cape Town's use of the Anti-Land Invasion Unit to conduct unlawful evictions. In September, the Grahamstown High Court granted Yolanda Dyantyi leave to appeal on the grounds that her being denied a right to legal representation during her disciplinary hearing at Rhodes University does have merit.
We launched four case studies documenting lessons and experiences in water rights claiming in South Africa and partnered with the Water Integrity Network (WIN) to launch a report on human rights and water integrity that considers implications for informal settlement water and sanitation. Together with Lawyers for Human Rights, SERI made a submission to the Gauteng Provincial Government on its draft Township Economic Development Bill.
Download the full newsletter here.