On 10 June 2014, over 1 000 occupiers of several inner city Johannesburg buildings issued an application in the Johannesburg High Court, requesting the court to declare that the City of Johannesburg has failed to discharge its obligations, under section 26(2) of the Constitution, to provide temporary accommodation to people facing eviction.
The application is a response to the City’s attempt to get an order suspending nearly 30 pending evictions, because it does not have land or buildings available to provide for people who are evicted. The City claims this inability to provide alternative accommodation is due to it awaiting the outcome of the Dladla matter, in which residents of alternative accommodation provided by the City are challenging the lawfulness of the rules in the accommodation.
Today an illegal eviction was attempted at one of the buildings represented by SERI - Jeanwell Court - by the owner, City officials and JMPD officers. The occupiers of that property were evicted out onto the streets because the City says that their homes are unsafe. These occupiers, who, like thousands of others, live in constant fear of eviction from dilapidated buildings, cannot be expected to wait in limbo for years until it suits the City to come up with a plan for them.
In seeking to suspend all evictions that might require it to provide alternative accommodation, the City wants to suspend its own obligations to provide decent shelter for poor and vulnerable people. This comes after several years in which the City has refused to engage with the occupiers on their needs and circumstances, or plan and budget for providing accommodation. The City has adopted an unreasonable, inflexible attitude to the occupiers and their circumstances. That, the occupiers will tell the High Court, is unlawful.
In their application, the occupiers are requesting that a detailed process of engagement, investigation and reporting-back to court is undertaken by the City. This would include: implementing revised criteria for determining eligibility for the provision of temporary accommodation; adopting reasonable measures, within available resources, to provide temporary accommodation to the occupiers; and engaging meaningfully, individually and collectively, with each of the occupiers, the owners of the property and their legal representatives in order to determine their individual circumstances and the extent to which the City’s managed care policy should be applied to them.
The occupiers want the City to file a report showing the steps it has taken to engage with the occupiers and owners on the provision of temporary accommodation; the terms and conditions under which the occupiers are to be accommodated; and the nature of the land and/or buildings available (or not) to the City to accommodate the occupiers.
SERI and Probono.Org hosted a soundboard meeting on the development of guidelines to the implementation of large-scale relocations in eviction cases and instances of voluntary relocation on 6 June 2014 in Johannesburg. The soundboard meeting was attended by representatives from various civil society organisations and legal NGOs and provided an opportunity for SERI to present its draft guidelines to the group. The guidelines draw on the legal principles that govern relocations, as developed through case law, as well as SERI's practical experience in implementing relocations. The guidelines will be published later in 2014.
On 6 June 2014, the Constitutional Court handed down judgment in Zulu and 389 Others v eThekwini Municipality and Others (Zulu). SERI represents Abahlali baseMjondolo (Abahlali) who acted as amicus curiae in the case. The case concerned the interpretation of a court order obtained by the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works on 28 March 2013 from the Durban High Court. The order permits the Durban municipality to “prevent any persons from invading and/or occupying and/or undertaking the construction of any structures” on specified land within the municipality’s area of jurisdiction and to “remove any materials placed by any persons upon” that land. The order was used to justify the Cato Crest evictions in 2013.
SERI welcomes the Constitutional Court’s finding that the order amounted to an eviction order, and its finding that the eThekwini Municipality had used the order to evict people. The municipality had argued that the order could not and was not used to evict people, even though the municipality had relied on it to evict the appellants 25 times. The court correctly found this dishonest submission to be “unacceptable”. SERI also welcomes the judgment of van der Westhuizen J, which found that the order was invalid because it was granted in breach of the Constitution.
However, the majority judgment did not pronounce on the lawfulness of the order, and referred the matter back to the High Court for further proceedings. This is unfortunate. The order applies to potentially thousands of people on 1 568 properties. These people are at risk of summary eviction until it is set aside. The municipality has shown that it has no qualms about evicting poor people repeatedly and without warning.
Tashwill Esterhuizen, attorney for Abahlali, the amicus curiae in the case, said: “We welcome the judgment. Our client has always been of the view that the interim order obtained by the MEC amounts to an unlawful eviction order. It's a pity that the majority judgment did not deem it necessary to pronounce on the constitutionality of the interim order. We are in agreement with separate judgment of van der Westhuizen J in which he held that the interim order is unlawful and it violates the residents rights under PIE and section 26(3) of the Constitution. Our client will certainly attack the validity of the order once the matter is referred back to the Durban High Court.”
On Friday 30 May 2014, SERI partnered up with the directors of the full-length documentary film "Dear Mandela" and Local Government Action (LGA) to host a pilot Dear Mandela audience engagement workshop for approximately 40 people in Lindelane informal settlement outside Daveyton. Lindelani residents face a severe lack of basic services and are subject to constant threat of eviction.
The workshop consisted of a screening of the film, which portrays the struggles of a number of young activists that are members of the shackdwellers social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo as they resist illegal evictions. The screening was followed by a discussion facilitated by the directors' of the film. Using the film as a springboard for discussion and learning, SERI engaged the community about defending themselves from illegal evictions, their right to protest and ways to engage local government officials. Further workshops will be organised based on this model in future.
Today SERI convened a civil society roundtable discussion on municipal indigent policies and the provision of free basic services (FBS) in South Africa. The roundtable marked the official launch of a SERI research report entitled "Targeting the Poor? An Analysis of Free Basic Services (FBS) and Municipal Indigent Policies in South Africa". A summary of the report is available here.
The report provides an overview of the law and policies relevant to free basic services (FBS) and municipal indigent policies in South Africa. It details the regulations and strategies around FBS - which includes free basic water (FBW), free basic electricity (FBE), free basic sanitation (FBSan) and free basic refuse removal (BRR) - and examines the framework policy and implementation guidelines for municipal indigent policies.
SERI's research highlights problems with the implementation of indigent policies, around the following issues: targeting methods for FBS, municipal systems of indigent application, conditionalities attached to indigent status and FBS, and FBS amount provided. While the policy aim of the FBS programme is ensure that poor households are able to access basic services, its current implementation has the overall effect of targeting poor households for exclusion.