Between 24 and 26 July 2017, SERI will be participating in the seventh annual Public Interest Law Gathering (PILG) which will be held at the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape. The event brings together public interest legal practitioners and organisations, law students, community-based paralegals, social movement leaders and legal academics from across South Africa.
Several SERI staff members are involved in presenting, facilitating or organising panels at the gathering around a wide variety of topics including panels on regulating and enabling disruptive protest, urban land justice, how the public interest legal services sector should deal with increased demand for legal services, racial and gender transformation in the public interest legal services sector and which sphere of government to hold accountable for access to basic services.
SERI staff involved in the event include Alana Potter, Dasantha Pillay, Tiffany Ebrahim, Nomzamo Zondo and Thulani Nkosi.
Today in the Daily Maverick SERI's research associate, Michael Clark, and SERI's director of research and advocacy, Alana Potter, wrote an op-ed about farm evicrions and how farm dwellers can resist them.
Many evictions from farms are illegal. Farm dwellers can resist them and can insist on the protection of their rights. Knowledge of the law is a useful tool that enables farm dwellers to assert their rights, and enables community advice officers and legal supporters to make the best use of the legislation intended to protect farm dwellers’ tenure and livelihoods security.
It is in this light that SERI has developed a new guide on resisting evictions from farms. SERI's guide provides clear information on the law relating to evictions together with practical advice on how to resist them. The guide aims to assist people in knowing and defending their rights. This would enable many to negotiate more effectively for compensation or ensure that they are not evicted without being provided with alternative housing. With the launch of its new guide on resisting evictions, SERI hopes to expand the number of people who are able to defend themselves against evictions and hold farm owners to account.
The first publication, entitled Protection Against Eviction under the Extension of Security of Tenure Act: Legal Rules, Principles and Process, is a user-friendly guide that explains the rights of farm dwellers and the law in relation to evictions from farmland. It gives advice on how farm dwellers can navigate the legal processes involved in eviction proceedings and practically resist evictions. It is a resource for farm dwellers facing eviction from their homes, as well as for farm worker unions, community-based paralegals and lawyers.
The second publication, entitled Abattoir Workers: Unfair Labour Practices and Anti-Union Strategies in Robertson, is the first in SERI's Making a Living Series of community practice notes. It details the struggles of a group of abattoir workers against unfair labour practices in Robertson. The workers were forced to work significant amounts of overtime (much more than the legal limit) and were dismissed when they resisted these unlawful practices. The community practice note documents their struggles to unionise and vindicate their rights in court. It is available in English and Afrikaans.
With the launch of these new publications, SERI hopes to raise awareness of the unfair labour practices faced by many farm workers and expand the number of people who are able to defend themselves against evictions from farmland.
On 21 July SERI filed filed an application for special leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court in the case of Ferguson and Others v Rhodes University.
Last year, SERI acted for students and intervening staff in an application to discharge a wide-ranging interim interdict, which had effectively banned campus-based protest at Rhodes University. The High Court dismissed the University's application for the interdict on 1 December 2016. However, a narrower interdict was granted against three of SERI's clients. The interdict was granted on the basis of disputed facts and the judge's belief that SERI's clients had "associated" themselves with unlawful conduct committed by some of the other protestors. The High Court made this finding on the basis that SERI's clients played a "leadership role" during the protest, this despite the fact that the University never showed that SERI's clients acted in any way to associate themselves with the unlawful acts. The High Court also granted an interdict against SERI's clients for "disrupting" classes and tutorials at the University. The Supreme Court of Appeal refused special leave to appeal the judgment. For this reason, SERI has approached the Constitutional Court for special leave to appeal.
In the papers filed before the Constitutional Court, SERI argues that the High Court's judgment is unconstitutional in that it infringes on the right to protest and the right to freedom of expression. SERI asserts that to hold an individual protestor who has done nothing unlawful liable "by association" for the unlawful acts of others at the same protest would unjustifiably limit the right to protest. SERI argues that this is particularly pertinent in the present case, where the University knows precisely who was responsible for the unlawful actions but, instead of holding those responsible, it has chosen to target SERI's clients who it considers to be the "leaders" of the protest. This, the students claim, is a way of penalising them for partiticpating in the protest.
In relation to the interdict restaining SERI's clients from "disrupting" classes and tutorials, SERI argues that the students' disruptions were non-threatening forms of constitutionally protected expression.
The City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) has moved the residents of Fattis Mansions to a field to the south of the inner city, at gun point.
Despite being ordered to provide alternative accommodation by the High Court on 19 July 2017, the City has still not provided any shelter to the residents, many of whom own their units in Fattis Mansions. The residents and their furniture have been dumped in a field outside the Wemmer building, which houses City-run rental accommodation. The Wemmer building is full, however, and is not able to accommodate any of the residents. The residents are sitting on the ground with their furniture.