On 12 December 2017, SERI's director of litigation, Nomzamo Zondo, was interviewed by the SABC News's senior reporter Candice Nolan about the Constitutional Court's recent 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.
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) acts for Yolanda Dyantyi in a number of matters concerning her participation in anti-rape protests on the Rhodes University campus during April 2016. Our client has instructed us to issue this statement to the media in response to the recent online campaign #RhodesWar.
Between 17 and 20 April 2016, a large number of Rhodes students participated in a campus-based protest against what they saw as an entrenched culture of rape and sexual violence against women. The protestors believed that the University’s management and administration had enabled a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women were both permitted and condoned. The protestors also believed that the University enabled this culture by permitting a number of practices which promoted gender-based violence.
One example of this culture was the fact that University’s own website described first year women students as “seals” that are ripe for “clubbing” (a euphemism for older male students aggressively pursuing sexual contact with younger women). The University also promoted “serenades” in which male students randomly select young women to take back to their dormitory rooms, in circumstances where there is no doubt that sexual contact is expected and condoned.
In March 2017, eleven months after the April 2016 protests concluded, the University instituted disciplinary proceedings against Ms. Dyantyi. When the time came for the disciplinary inquiry to hear Ms. Dyantyi’s evidence, the Chairperson of the proceedings postponed the inquiry to a date on which he knew none of Ms. Dyantyi’s legal representatives could attend the inquiry, because they had competing commitments in court. SERI made every effort to persuade the Chairperson to continue the proceedings on a date that Ms. Dyantyi could give evidence with the assistance of her legal representatives.
Ms. Dyantyi was convicted in her absence, and permanently excluded from the University. All of her most recent examinations were invalidated. Her transcript was endorsed with the words “Unsatisfactory Conduct: Student found guilty of assault, kidnapping, insubordination and defamation”.
As far as SERI has been able to ascertain, this is the harshest penalty the University has imposed for ten years for any offence whatsoever, including rape and sexual violence on campus. The endorsement on Ms. Dyantyi’s transcript is unusual. Ordinarily, a student’s transcript does not record disciplinary offences of which she has been convicted. In setting out the offences of which Ms. Dyantyi has been found guilty, the transcript will effectively prevent Ms. Dyantyi from registering elsewhere. SERI has advised Ms. Dyantyi that this sanction is wholly unreasonable and unlawful.
SERI believes that the University’s treatment of Ms. Dyantyi has been disproportionate, unfair and unlawful.
SERI's December 2017 Newsletter is out! The last five months have been a busy period for us. We have been involved in a number of ground-breaking cases dealing with housing, evictions, informal settlements and political space. We have also launched a number of research reports and guides covering housing rights, evictions and relocations and student protests.
In a judgment handed down today, the Constitutional Court was unanimous in finding that the rules separating the residents’ families and locking them out during the day were in breach of the Constitution.
The Constitutional Court said that the City of Johannesburg committed a “monumental irregularity” in breaching the rights of 11 poor people to whom it provided temporary accommodation after they were evicted 5 years ago. The City provided the former residents of Saratoga Avenue, Johannesburg, accommodation at the Ekuthuleni Shelter in Johannesburg’s inner city in 2012. But when they got to the shelter, the residents were split up from their families into men’s and women’s dormitories – even if they were married or had children of the opposite sex. They were also locked out of the shelter during the day under the shelter rules. The residents objected to being separated from their families, and to being locked out of their homes during the day. They approached SERI, who took up their case and asked the Constitutional Court to declare the shelter rules invalid.
SERI argued that the rules had a profoundly negative effect on the residents’ dignity. Those residents on nightshifts were forced to work at night, but were prevented from sleeping at the shelter during the day: they were effectively denied any access to the shelter whatsoever. Married couples separated by gender said that the imposition of the rules “felt like a divorce”. Children coming back from the dentist during the day found themselves locked out of the shelter, in pain and unable to rest. Some of the residents who were locked out of the shelter were assaulted on the streets and could not return to the shelter for rest and protection. One of the locked-out residents was stabbed.
The Court struck the rules down and interdicted the City from applying them to the residents for the rest of their stay at the shelter.
SERI has published its annual review, covering the period July 2016 to June 2017. The review details SERI's research, litigation and advocacy work over the past year in our thematic areas of Securing a Home, Making a Living, and Expanding Political Space. The review also includes SERI's financial statements for the period.