On 14 June 2013, the Gauteng Rental Housing Tribunal handed down its ruling in the Jele case, finding that the charging of a "service charge" to tenants of a building in Hillbrow violates Regulation 13(1)(d) and (f) of the Gauteng Unfair Practices Regulations, and amounts to a profit which the landlord is not entitled to make (off electricity charges).
The Tribunal found that the City's electricity by-laws and the Electricity Regulation Act preclude the landlord from making a profit off electricity. In terms of the latter, the landlord would need to have a licence to trade in electricity, which it does not have. The landlord also raised the arguments that Regulation 13 does not apply because it is superseded by the tenants’ lease agreements, and that it is the electricity service provider to the tenants, not City Power, and hence is entitled to levy its own service charge in addition to City Power. The Tribunal unanimously rejected these arguments.
The Tribunal ruled that the landlord is interdicted from levying the charge in future, and ordered the landlord to repay to the tenants all the service charges levied against them since May 2009.
From 10 to 12 July 2013, the Third Annual Public Interest Law Gathering (PILG) was held at the School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand. This is an annual event that brings together public interest legal practitioners and organisations, law students, paralegals, social movement leaders and legal academics to share and develop knowledge. PILG is organised through a coordinating committee consisting of Wits School of Law, SALC, CALS, LHR, Section 27, SERI, LRC, SLSJ and ProBono.Org.
Some of the topics explored at the 2013 PILG included: extractive industries; budgetary transparency and accountability; corporate obligations in respect of human rights; health and vulnerable populations; School Governing Bodies, school admissions policies and the right to education; customary law; Legal Practices Bill, community service and the ethics of legal representation; housing strategies post-Blue Moonlight; the criminal injustice system; addressing sexual violence in schools; community participation and mining development; using international law frameworks globally and domestically; disability law and the rights of people with disabilities; and informal settlement upgrading.
On 29-30 May and 3 June 2013, Stuart Wilson of SERI, together with Paul Kennedy SC, appeared in the Western Cape High Court to defend 6 000 occupiers of the isiQalo informal settlement in Cape Town. The occupiers are represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC). The owners of the land are bringing an application for the eviction of isiQalo; however say they are willing to sell or lease their land to the City of Cape Town, or to be expropriated by it. The City says it will do nothing in the foreseeable future and that the residents are "land invaders" who should not be rewarded for 'invading' the land.
On 3 June, an order was agreed by all the parties. It states that the residents of isiQalo will remain in occupation of their homes pending a further order by the court. The following parties are now joined to the proceeedings: the Minister of Human Settlements; Minister of Public Works; Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform; Western Cape MEC for Human Settlements; and Western Cape MEC for Public Works. Together with the City, they must provide reports to the court by no later than 2 September 2013. These reports must detail what vacant, unused national, provincial and City land exists in the City of Cape Town's jurisdiction, and whether or not it is suitable and available for emergency housing for the residents (if not, reasons for this must be provided). The owners and residents may also provide information on any vacant land in the City's jurisdiction which they think is suitable and available for emergency housing.
SERI is proud to announce that, as of May 2013, Justice Zak Yacoob has been appointed the Patron of SERI. Justice Yacoob served as a Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa from 1998 to 2013, during which time he wrote a number of groundbreaking judgments for socio-economic rights. These include Grootboom, Olivia Road, Mooiplaats, Skurweplaas. and Motswagae. As Patron of SERI, Justice Yacoob will assist us in starting a public lecture series on socio-economic rights, will be on hand to advise and encourage us in our work, and will disseminate information on socio-economic rights.
On 24 August 2012, 46 applicants who collectively refer to themselves as the “Forgotten Poor Black Citizens of South Africa” approached the Constitutional Court to make an application for direct access to the Court. The applicants seek an order from the Court setting aside a number of court orders from lower courts. The applicants declined the suggestion to obtain legal representation and, in order to further its understanding of the matter, the Court requested SERI and the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) to conduct an initial investigation into the application and to compile a report of the findings. SERI and the LRC found that at the core, the majority of the matters the applicants seek to bring under appeal point very strongly to potentially far-reaching systemic failures in the process of evictions and executions concerning residential property.