In March 2015 the residents of the Slovo Park informal settlement filed their replying affidavit in response to the City of Johannesburg's affidavit in the Melani case. The City is arguing that it has made a policy decision to relocate Slovo Park residents to Unaville housing development (ostensibly to be built in Lenasia South), and that the court cannot interfere with this decision. This is in response to an application launched in January 2014 by the residents, seeking the court to review the City's failure to take the decision to apply to the Gauteng Provincial Government for funding to upgrade Slovo Park in terms of the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) contained in the National Housing Code.
In the latest papers filed in the case, the residents argue that the City’s plan for their relocation to Unaville is in clear breach of the applicable legal framework and that, as a first priority, the UISP requires that informal settlements must be upgraded in situ and in partnership with the residents of the relevant informal settlement. The City’s new plan to accommodate the applicants at Unaville ignores both requirements and the City does not furnish any evidence that any consideration of the requirements of the UISP was undertaken.
On Sunday 22 March 2015 SERI held an Inner City Workshop for committee members from a number of buildings where we represent the residents. 39 people attended the workshop from 14 inner city buildings, including: MBV 1, 54 Soper Road, Ekuthuleni, Jeanwell Court and Koch Mansions.
The aim of the workshop was to share experiences across the different buildings and discuss a collective way forward on issues of evictions and affordable rental housing in the inner city. A follow-up workshop is planned soon.
Today, the SCA confirmed that municipal officials can face contempt of court proceedings if they fail to ensure that municipalities obey court orders. The SCA was ruling on an appeal by the City of Johannesburg against an order of the Johannesburg High Court made in April 2013 in the Hlophe case. That order directed Mayor Parks Tau, City Manager Trevor Fowler and former City of Johannesburg Director of Housing Thabo Maisela, to take all the steps necessary to provide 180 poor residents with alternative accommodation, failing which they could be sued for contempt. This case was brought to court by the residents of Chung Hua Mansions in Jeppe Street, Johannesburg, after the City missed several court-ordered deadlines to provide the residents with decent shelter.
Acting Judge of Appeal CHG van der Merwe, writing for a unanimous court, held that the fundamental constitutional value of accountability requires municipal officials to see to it that the municipalities they control obey court orders. Judge van der Merwe held that public accountability “is a founding value of the Constitution and central to our Constitutional culture”. In promoting accountability, courts can make a variety of orders, including orders that individual officials discharge their obligations to provide housing for the poor.
Nomzamo Zondo, SERI director of litigation, said: “Today the SCA held that we have the right to expect our public officials to do their jobs diligently, and without delay. The City has repeatedly failed to provide SERI’s clients with decent accommodation, and has left them in appalling conditions in a high-rise inner city building. This is not acceptable. I will be meeting with the City in the next few days to ensure that the residents are promptly given accommodation.”
The residents of Chung Hua Mansions were represented in the appeal by Paul Kennedy SC, and SERI executive director Stuart Wilson.
SERI represents an unaffiliated union – the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural & Allied Workers’ Union (CSAAWU) - in an appeal to a costs order handed down by the Cape Town Labour Court in June 2014. The costs order was made in a matter arising from an incorrect referral of an unfair dismissal complaint to the Court, which CSAAWU admits was the case.
However, while the presiding Judge in the Labour Court found the workers to be “indigent”, he reasoned that CSAAWU would be able to satisfy the costs order even though the workers clearly could not. He accordingly ordered all the applicants to pay the employer's costs, jointly and severally, the one paying the other to be absolved.
In the application for leave to appeal, CSAAWU argues that the costs order should never been made against the workers, because there was no dispute that they are unable to satisfy it and because the real intention behind it was to cause the union to pay the employer's costs. CSAAWU argues that the order will effectively preclude the workers from approaching the Labour Court in future, for fear of the financial consequences. The union further argues that it is, in fact, unable to satisfy the costs order against it and would effectively cease to function as an active force in organising and representing farm workers in the Western Cape, some of South Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable individuals.
CSAAWU accepts that it is not generally permissible to entertain an appeal against cost orders alone; however as the Constitutional Court has made clear in the Biowatch case, where an appeal against a costs award raises other questions relating to the public interest, the interests of justice will demand that it be entertained.
Between 9 and 13 March 2015 SERI and the Local Government Action (LGA) alliance will be attending the inaugural Dullah Omar School for the Community Advice Office (CAO) sector, hosted by the Association for Community Advice Offices of South Africa (ACAOSA) and the Black Sash. The aim of the school is to provide a learning platform for the CAO sector in order to contribute towards making justice accessible at the community level.
SERI and LGA will present a course module to participants entitled "Understanding Local Government: An Activist’s Guide". The aim of the module is to strengthen the CAO sector through facilitating an understanding of local government and its role and responsibilities.