Today SERI launched a new research report entitled An Anatomy of Dissent and Repression: The Criminal Justice System and the 2011 Thembelihle Protest.
SERI researcher Michael Clark explained how in September 2011 residents of Thembelihle informal settlement in Lenasia took to the streets, frustrated by an unaccountable and unresponsive local government. Their demands were dismissed and instead they were met with a forceful police clamp-down. In the aftermath of the protest, arrest and criminal prosecution were used to harass and intimidate community members and to target community leaders.
Bhayiza Miya, former spokesperson of the Thembelihle Crisis Committee (TCC), spoke at the event about how he was arrested by the police during the protest, after visiting the police station on another matter, and charged with public violence and intimidation. Additional charges, on which no further evidence was provided, were also brought against him. He was singled out for his role in the TCC, being the only arrested resident denied immediate bail. According to Miya “The decision to prosecute me was clearly political and coming from elsewhere.”
Miya also highlighted the frustrations of community residents over their appalling living conditions and the unresponsiveness of government officials and politicians to their plight. According to him, despite what many think “People in informal settlements don't just wake up one day from sleeping and decide to protest.” He explained how the government simply ignored issues raised during peaceful protests earlier in the year, putting it bluntly - “Real protest is the only language government understands.”
Former deputy editor of the Daily Maverick Phillip de Wet spoke about his experience covering the Thembelihle protest as well as more generally about media coverage of protests. He offered a pessimistic view of the media’s appetite or ability to cover protests at all, let alone in a more nuanced manner.
According to Stuart Wilson, SERI’s executive director: “The role of the media in covering issues facing informal settlement communities is critical. Currently much of the media uncritically perpetuates the worst kind of racial and class stereotypes. This needs to change.”
On 10 September 2014, SERI made submissions before the Lwandle Ministerial Enquiry. The inquiry was established by the Minister of Human Settlements, Lindiwe Sisulu, to investigate the circumstances under which the eviction of over 800 residents of the Lwandle community in Cape Town on 2 and 3 June 2014 took place. The eviction was violently executed in freezing weather with no alternative accommodation provided, to considerable public outcry.
SERI's submission to the Lwandle Ministerial Enquiry provides background to the organisation and its work, briefly summarises eviction law and jurisprudence in South Africa, and examines three cases where the constitutional and legislative protections for unlawful occupiers were circumvented: Zulu, Fischer and Lwandle.
The submission also looks at proactive ways that the state can address land occupation, discussing the rather unhelpful discourse of the “housing waiting list” and two of government’s key housing programmes: the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) and the Emergency Housing Programme (EHP). Finally, the submission provides some concluding remarks and recommendations.
SERI currently has two vacancies for Research and Advocacy Officers. We’re looking for vibrant self-starters to contribute to SERI’s work.
The Researcher position will assist with integrating SERI’s research and advocacy work with its litigation work. The successful candidate will work both on their own and in a team, and will be responsible for conducting policy, legal and field research, as well as writing reports and documenting SERI’s litigation.
The Community Research and Advocacy Officer position will focus on engaging with SERI’s clients, and other community-based organisations, to assist with SERI’s research and advocacy work. The successful candidate will work both on their own and in a team, and will be responsible for undertaking field research in SERI projects and community engagement and mobilisation functions with SERI client organisations, as well as legal and policy research where necessary.
The closing date for applications is 29 September 2014. Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted, and will be expected to make themselves available for interviews in early October.
Today the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) dismissed Legal Aid SA’s appeal against the High Court’s decision in Magidiwana v President of the Republic of South Africa handed down last year. In that case, Judge Makgoka directed Legal Aid SA to provide legal aid to around 270 arrested and injured miners represented at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. SERI represents the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the families of 36 of the deceased miners killed at Marikana, in the legal proceedings.
The SCA today indicated that it will give full reasons for its decision at a later stage. It made its ruling after asking the parties to address it solely on whether the appeal would have any practical effect or result. This was partly because Legal Aid SA had promised to fund the miners’ representation at the Marikana Commission whether or not it won the appeal. Section 16 of the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013 permits the SCA to dismiss an appeal if its outcome would have no practical effect.
The injured and arrested miners, together AMCU and the families of the deceased argued that Legal Aid SA’s promise to fund the miners meant that the appeal would have no practical effect. They further argued that the circumstances surrounding the High Court’s decision and the Marikana Commission were unique, so that there would be no value in giving judgment in a situation that was unlikely to arise again.
Adv Stuart Wilson, appearing on behalf of AMCU and the 36 families represented by SERI at the Commission, also submitted that the essence of Judge Makgoka’s decision in the High Court was to instruct Legal Aid SA not to draw irrational distinctions between the families of those who died at Marikana, and the miners who were arrested and injured there. Both were in need of legal aid, and in granting legal aid to the families, but not the miners, Legal Aid SA acted irrationally. There would be no point in a judgment from the SCA telling Legal Aid SA to do what it knew it must do all along: treat like cases alike.
On 4 September 2014, SERI hosted a workshop to present the findings of the Community Practice Notes: Informal Settlement Series published in August. SERI's first series of community practice notes documents how community-based organisations (CBOs) in four informal settlements have organised and mobilised in their struggles for development, particularly around in situ upgrading of informal settlements. In doing so the series analyses the relationship between evictions, development, community organisation and mobilisation, local politics, protest and the use of courts. The four settlements included in the series are: Makause, Rooigrond, Thembelihle and Slovo Park.
Approximately 20 representatives from the CBOs profiled in the series participated in the workshop, which aimed to discuss and evaluate the tactics and strategies employed by CBOs, as well as unpack the challenges faced by communities fighting for development.