Today, 33 residents of Thembelihle informal settlement walked free having been detained for 5 days. The residents were arrested for public violence during a protest at the settlement last Thursday. Many of the residents deny that they were even part of the protest. They say they were arrested indiscriminately because their houses happened to be near the site of the protest.
The residents – including 7 women, 19 men and 5 children – were forced to spend 4 nights in police custody because the police held them without charge for 24 hours. They were arrested on Thursday but were only charged on Friday afternoon. This made it impossible for them to be brought before a court before Monday, and meant that they had to spend the weekend in prison.
The State opposed bail for, amongst others, the following people:
The State said that it required a further seven days to verify the addresses of the residents before bail could be granted, arguing that it was difficult to verify addresses of people living in “unnavigable informal settlements”. After hearing arguments from the State and SERI’s legal team, the Magistrate granted bail to all of the accused - R300 each for two women and R1 000 each for the remaining adults. However, because the cashier was closed by the time bail was granted, all of them had to spend a fifth night in prison.
Over the past five days SERI has witnessed a number of rights being violated by the police. On Thursday, SERI attorney Bhavna Ramji was refused access to the detained residents for several hours. Two of the arrested persons were shot and wounded before being arrested. They were denied medical treatment for several hours. Three children were detained for five days – often in handcuffs and chained together.
Thembelihle has long been a site of struggle over development at the settlement. Last year SERI documented the community’s 20 year struggle, as well as the week-long protest in September 2011 that resulted in the trial, and eventual acquittal, of 14 people. At the time one of the community leaders was denied bail, spending a month in prison before a judge released him.
According to Bhavna Ramji, SERI attorney representing the accused: “The police have acted in breach of their constitutional obligations. They have shown no respect for the Thembelihle residents’ rights to protest. They have arrested several people who were not even protesting in the first place. Our Constitution also guarantees certain rights to arrested persons, and we saw these rights violated at every turn through delays, obstruction and abuse. This is far from the standard of policing South Africans have a right to expect.”
Today the Daily Maverick published an op-ed by SERI researcher Dennis Webster, entitled "Ke Molao Wa Rona: Joburg continues its anti-poor approach".
The op-ed criticises the City of Johannesburg's (the City) Operation Ke Molao (It’s the Law), launched in February with the goal to secure the safety of the city streets after a reported spike in street crimes. Beggars, hawkers, vagrants, informal traders and window washers are being targeted by the operation for arrest or removal. The op-ed compares Operation Ke Molao with Operation Clean Sweep, implemented by the City in 2013.
According to Webster, "Broad scale operations against crime, rooted in the removal of people from the streets, are a persistent theme in Johannesburg’s recent history. Little over a year ago, the dust settled on the newly empty Joburg inner city streets after a month of forced evictions of traders as part of Operation Clean Sweep. The justifications for Clean Sweep, which left over 6,000 people unable to make a living for months, are now chillingly echoed in the fledgling Ke Molao. The City has justified both as efforts to stop crime. According to the City’s logic, crime goes hand in hand with people using public space to make a living in the informal economy."
Between 23 and 25 February 2015 SERI's executive director Stuart Wilson will sit as a member of a panel constituted for the South African Human Rights Commission's (SAHRC) first National Hearing on Access to Housing, Local Governance and Service Delivery. The panel also consists of Commissioner Pregs Govender and Commissioner Mohamed Shafie Ameermia.
The nature of the hearing is inquisitorial, with the primary objective being to enlighten the SAHRC as to the causes of the violations currently being experienced by affected communities, as well as the challenges experienced by local, provincial and national spheres of government in addressing them. The SAHRC hopes to understand and develop practical measures that can be implemented to effectively overcome these obstacles.
Government departments due to attend and give presentations to the panel include the Department of Human Settlements, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Gauteng Provincial Government, Western Cape Provincial Government, KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government, City of Johannesburg, City of Cape Town, eThekwini Municipality, and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). Civil society groups making presentations before the panel include the South African Board of Sheriffs, Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII), Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), Informal Settlement Network (ISN), Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and Local Government Action (LGA) alliance.
Today the South Gauteng High Court confirmed that landlords are not entitled to profit from providing electricity to their tenants when it dismissed an application brought by a landlord to review and set aside the ruling of the Gauteng Rental Housing Tribunal in a complaint dealing with unfair electricity service charges levied at a building in Hillbrow.
Judge Philip Coppin in the High Court agreed with the Tribunal, finding that the its ruling was reasonable, just and fair. The Judge found that the Gauteng Unfair Practices Regulations, which govern the relationship between residential landlords and tenants, prohibit a landlord from making a profit from allowing electricity to be supplied to its tenants.
According to Tashwill Esterhuizen, attorney for the residents: “This case is a warning to exploitative landlords. Over-charging tenants for services is illegal. Landlords cannot abuse their superior bargaining power to extract more than is fair in rent and services from their tenants. For years my clients were overcharged. This judgment is a welcome vindication for them. They have always maintained that their landlord could not recover more than the value of the electricity actually consumed by them. I hope that other tenants who are being unfairly charged for services by their landlords will also take their plight to the Rental Housing Tribunal which is an effective way to resolve landlord-tenants disputes.”
On 20 February 2015 the Mchunu case was settled in the Durban High Court. An order was agreed by consent, with the municipality offering houses at an acceptable location to the residents within 16 months.
The case involves 37 residents of the Richmond Farm Transit Camp who were evicted from the Siyanda informal settlement in 2009 to allow for the construction of a road. One of the conditions of the eviction order against them was that they would be provided with permanent housing within a year. The residents were to be accommodated in permanent housing at the Khulula housing project near KwaMashu, however these houses were allocated to other unknown persons. The residents are still waiting for houses to be provided to them.
In March 2013 the municipality made a proposal to house the respondents at Lovu Housing, which the residents believe is some 50km away from Khulula. The municipality never identified exactly where the houses at Lovu are, and has never made them available for inspection, despite the residents' repeated requests. The municipality wanted the court to declare that it has discharged its obligations by offering these houses to the residents. The residents argued that there is no basis for such an order because they have not seen the housing the municipality refers to, do not know where it is or if it even exists. They launched a counter-application asking the court to order the municipality to comply with its obligations under court orders issued in 2009 and 2012 by providing houses on one of the vacant sites at the Khulula housing project, alternatively on another site within a reasonable distance of Khulula.