On 11 April 2018, SERI's director of litigation, Nomzamo Zondo, appeared on SABC's Morning Live to discuss the need for safe temporary alternative accommodation in inner-city Johannesburg in the wake of the recent wall collapse of a building at 39 to 41 Davies Street in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, in which three children died.
Zondo discussed the concerning and often dangerous conditions that many occupiers living in inner-city buildings are forced to deal with on a daily basis. She noted that
"[a]bandoned buildings have become progressively worse [since the 1990s]. Most of them have little or no sanitation, there is sometimes no power, there is limited access to water ... we're concerned about the risk of fires, we're worried about children falling into lift shafts that are unmaintained..."
When asked how these challenges could be addressed, Zondo said:
"Our main problem with the City of Johannesburg is that it has refused to provide accommodation without being ordered by a court to do so ... it has acknowledged that there is a housing crisis... People who earn below R3 200 [a month] have no other place where they can rent in the formal market [including state-subsidised social housing] in safe and decent accommodation."
Zondo said that although the City plans to roll out low-cost accommodation and temporary emergency accommodation, there is virtually none available at present.
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) is aware of the statements made by Herman Mashaba and Tony Turison, of the City of Johannesburg, to the effect that SERI has “obstructed” its efforts to address the needs of occupiers of bad buildings, by refusing to make our staff available to assist it in surveying the occupants of those buildings.
These allegations are false. In the case of the building at 39 to 41 Davies Street, Johannesburg, which partially collapsed this week, the City did, in fact, conduct an audit of the occupiers and their personal circumstances. In July 2017, the City also compiled a report for Mayor Mashaba recommending that the residents of the building be found alternative accommodation. But nothing was done.
In the cases of all other buildings in which SERI has clients, it is, in fact, SERI that first draws the City’s attention to the needs and identities of the occupiers of unsafe buildings.
In response to proceedings brought to evict the residents, SERI compiles a list of the occupiers and sets out their needs and circumstances in affidavits that are then provided to the City. The City is then asked to provide alternative accommodation. Where the City requires another registration process (as it sometimes does), we ensure that our clients attend that process.
Once these registration processes are complete, our clients wait for alternative accommodation. Most of our clients, like the residents of 29 to 31 Davies Street, have been waiting for the City to provide that accommodation for many months, often many years.
There is not a single instance in which the City has actually provided alternative accommodation, unless SERI or another public interest NGO, has gone to court to force the City to make the accommodation available. Approximately 1000 residents of unsafe buildings have been rehoused in this way since 2008.
The truth is that the City never acts on its own. It is SERI, and other organisations like the Legal Resources Centre, Lawyers for Human Rights and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, that have obtained court orders that have forced the City to act to provide residents of unsafe buildings with the accommodation they so desperately need.
Far from obstructing the City, “so-called” human rights lawyers, and our clients, are the only reason the City ever does anything for poor people living in unsafe buildings in Johannesburg’s inner city.
The families living in an abandoned building at 39 to 41 Davies Street in Doornfontein, which partially collapsed today, killing three children, had been asking the City of Johannesburg for emergency accommodation for eight months. But none was provided.
SERI represents the residents of 39 to 41 Davies Street, in which three children were tragically killed when a wall collapsed on them this afternoon. The residents have been aware that the building is unsafe for some time. Since mid-2017, SERI has been pressing the City of Johannesburg to provide the residents with emergency accommodation, which would have allowed them to move out of the dangerous building to safer accommodation elsewhere.
In July 2017, City officials produced a report for Mayor Herman Mashaba strongly recommending that the residents be provided with alternative accommodation. The City did an audit of the residents in August 2017. Yet, for 8 months thereafter, the City has taken no steps to provide the residents with a safe alternative. The residents were left in unsafe accommodation as a result.
The residents are just 300 of an estimated 100 000 people living in abandoned properties in the inner-city of Johannesburg, many in unsafe conditions. The occupiers of these properties are forced to live in abandoned buildings because they cannot afford to rent or buy housing on the private market, and the City has failed to provide affordable rental housing or shelter accommodation for them.
The City has a constitutional duty to provide the residents of 39 to 41 Davies Street, and people like them, with affordable, safe alternative accommodation, but has consistently failed to do so. The City’s plans are to provide a mere 364 new beds in temporary accommodation this year. That is a tiny fraction of what is required to cater for poor people living in Johannesburg’s abandoned buildings.
SERI calls on the City to immediately re-accommodate the residents of 39 to 41 Davies Street in safe, decent and affordable accommodation.
On 6 April 2018, SERI researcher, Tiffany Ebrahim, gave a presentation on the use of provincial and local conditional grants on the upgrading of the Slovo Park Informal Settlement (Slovo Park). The presentation fell on the second day of a two-day Budget Training workshop hosted by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Johannesburg.
Informal settlements are a response to the lack of affordable housing near cities. More than 1.3 million households in South Africa live in informal settlements to more easily access employment opportunities and basic services. More than 10,000 people live in the Slovo Park Informal Settlement, alone. The residents of Slovo Park have been embroiled in a legal battle to have the City of Johannesburg take the necessary steps to upgrade the settlement in terms of the Upgrading Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) for more than a decade.
Tiffany presented on the in situ upgrading of the Settlement as prescribed under the UISP and the funding that has been allocated to implement the policy, specifically the Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG) and the Human Settlements Development Grant (HSDG). She highlighted the fact that the drastic underspending of the USDG conditional grant made available specifically for the implementation of the UISP in places such as Slovo Park, has led to slow implementation of court ordered upgrades. Tiffany’s presentation also emphasised the importance of having a Slovo Park “Task Team”, which includes community organisations and state representatives as key stakeholders, working to forge an effective and sustainable plan for development.
Tiffany Ebrahim is the key researcher on the forthcoming paper detailing the Slovo Park Upgrade Process which will be released later this year.
The Joint Committee on Constitutional Review which has been tasked by Parliament to review section 25 of the Constitution will, in April be embarking on a public participation process to consider views on the issue of expropriation without compensation. This is in accordance with a vote taken by Parliament in February to consider ammending the Constitution to allow for expropriation without compensation.
SERI has considered the motion and made a submission to the constitutional review committee in accordance with the public consultation process. SERI’s submission considers expropriation as a policy tool for the implementation of land reform and highlights the potential that it has to assist the state in unlocking speculatively held or abandoned land. It further argues that expropriation can enable the state to acquire vacant land and buildings which could then be used for the provision of permanent housing.
The submission further considers expropriation in relation to the Constitution and existing law and conclude that the state may, within existing laws, take a much more proactive approach to expropriation, by employing the existing instruments at its disposal to bring about meaningful land reform. Only once those efforts have been tested and found wanting will it be possible to consider whether constitutional and statutory amendments are necessary or desirable.