SERI, the CLC and CALS note with concern that the action of the South African delegation at the Human Rights Council may threaten a progressive resolution on the right to adequate housing.
It has come to the attention of SERI, the CLC and CALS that the South African delegation at the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva is requesting last minute amendments to an important resolution on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living. After weeks of negotiation the resolution is due to be adopted at the Human Rights Council tomorrow, Friday 28 March. The proposed amendments may result in this progressive resolution not being adopted.
This resolution is the culmination of a two year process in which the South African government has actively engaged, including participating at the African regional consultation on security of tenure for the urban poor which was convened by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing in Johannesburg in May 2013. The consultation was attended by government, civil society, academic and professional representatives from South Africa, Egypt, Brazil, Madagascar, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda. Out of this process the Special Rapporteur produced important guiding principles on security of tenure for the urban poor.
However by tabling several amendments to the resolution at such a late stage the South African delegation opens up room for each one of them to be considered separately, which will make the process of adoption very difficult. SERI, the CLC and CALS are also concerned that, if the proposed amendments by the South African delegation have the effect of watering down the resolution, the housing and security of tenure protections afforded to people at this important international human rights body will suffer. As this stance stands in stark contrast to constitutional and legal protections of socio-economic rights, particularly the right to adequate housing, in South Africa this is very worrying.
Given the emphasis on housing and security of tenure in the current election manifesto of the ruling party, it seems that the South African government is paying lip-service to the constitutional mandate at a time when the country is facing an ever-increasing spate of protests related to housing and tenure security issues. Instead of furthering the protections enshrined in our widely celebrated Constitution, the delegation may weaken the international status of the right to adequate housing.
According to The Con magazine, the Marikana Commission of Inquiry has heard more evidence of how deaths at Marikana were preventable, but for reckless action by high ranking police officers.
On 16 August 2012, after 17 miners were shot at scene one, the North West deputy provincial police commissioner Major General Ganasen Naidoo - responsible for deploying the fire and emergency medical teams on the day - and his men pursued miners fleeing the gunfire rather than moving to scene one. According to a report compiled by Professor Ken Boffard, clinical head at the department of surgery at Wits University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, the deaths of three of the miners at scene one was “potentially preventable” if medical assistance had arrived on time. Boffard noted that “paramedics were in attendance a few metres from the scene”, yet treatment was dispensed only “some 60 minutes after they sustained their wounds”.
Further, miners who survived being shot at scene two told the Commission that while some miners put their hands up in the air to 'surrender', they were still shot. Naidoo and other police officers have stated that they opened fire on miners at scene two in retaliation to miners charging at police. However forensic evidence pieced together by SERI appears to contradict this and an analysis of the gunshot wounds sustained by four dead miners does not correspond with the SAPS' version of events that the miners were charging at police officers.
Funds meant for informal settlement upgrading and urban regeneration diverted to upgrading the President’s home.
On 19 March 2014, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her report on the investigation into the upgrades made to President Jacob Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla. The report, titled Secure in Comfort, states that the President “unduly benefitted” from excessive expenditure on his private residence and suggests that the President and his family should personally bear the cost of a reasonable portion of the public expenditure not related to security upgrades at his residence.
SERI notes with particular concern the finding that the Department of Public Works reallocated public funds earmarked for inner city regeneration and dolomite rehabilitation initiatives to the upgrades at the President’s residence. The report states that this “negatively impacted” on service delivery projects of the Department of Public Works and constitutes improper conduct and maladministration. The Department must fully account for its actions in this regard.
As an organisation that has been working on the pressing issues of inner city housing and informal settlement upgrading, SERI is concerned about the misuse of public funds in this manner. SERI has consistently advocated for inclusive inner city regeneration initiatives and land rehabilitation to facilitate informal settlement upgrading projects. For example, we recently published a report which notes the dire lack of supply of affordable rental accommodation for poor and low-income households in the inner city of Johannesburg. In January this year we launched a High Court application on behalf of approximately 7 000 people living at the Slovo Park informal settlement in Johannesburg. The settlement lacks access to formal services and housing, which the residents have been promised for almost 20 years. The dolomite at the settlement has been used as an excuse for why the settlement cannot be upgraded.
The ‘reallocation’ of public funds that could significantly alleviate the dire consequences of socio-economic disadvantage, poverty and inequality in this manner is deeply troubling. The government regularly asserts that it does not have the resources to fulfil its constitutional obligations to fully realise the socio-economic rights enshrined in the Constitution. This report highlights that these claims are often disingenuous.
On 10 March 2014, 22 residents were unlawfully evicted from the View Court building in Bellevue, Johannesburg. The building is owned by Misty Sea Trading 221 (Pty) Ltd and is managed by Immer Property Management.
Since January 2014 the residents have not had electricity, as it was disconnected by City Power. The residents were accused by City Power of stealing the electricity meter and connecting illegally; however the owner of the building was responsible for installing the electricity meter. On 7 February 2014 security guards from Immer Property Management ‘arrested’ all of the male occupiers of the building for housebreaking and theft, alleging that they had stolen the electricity meter.
A month later, on the morning of 10 March, ten large armed men arrived at the property and made residents' entry to the building conditional on the production of a slip that rental had been paid. The residents approached SERI for assistance, who asked the SAPS to intervene. The SAPS refused, arguing that they deal with crime, not buildings. The director of Immer Property Management told the SAPS that the bouncers were acting on his instruction and that he is managing the property on behalf of the owner. When SERI arrived at the building, the SAPS officials were leaving. Many of the residents were locked out the property, standing outside in the rain.
An urgent application was launched in the South Gauteng High Court, heard by Judge Van Oosten. He granted an interim order allowing the residents access to their homes and preventing the security guards from denying access to the property. The SAPS was ordered to assist the residents in executing the order. At midnight the order was served on a representative from Immer Property Management and the residents were allowed access to the property.
SERI has submitted written comments on the Rules Board for Courts of Law's proposed amendment of Rule 46 of the Uniform Rules of Court and Rule 43 of the Magistrates’ Court Rules. These Court Rules regulate the sale in execution of a debtor’s home to satisfy a judgment debt. At present, the Rules provide for sales in execution “without reserve”. The Rules Board proposes that courts should, in the exercise of their judicial oversight function, be able to set the reserve price at which a sale in execution of primary residential property should commence.
SERI supports the proposed amendment provided that the setting of reserve prices is made mandatory and that reserve prices are linked to the value of the property in question. This would provide significant protection to poor debtors who are at risk of losing their accommodation and most valuable financial assets.