Logo FL trans smallfacebook icontwitter iconyoutube icon

[SUBMISSION] SERI makes a submission on the national minimum wage annual review (20 September 2023).

SERI NMW submissionOn Friday, 8 September 2023, SERI made a submission to the National Minimum Wage Commission concerning possible adjustments to the national minimum wage for 2024. The commission will consider representations made to it before it publishes its annual report and recommendations on the annual review of the national minimum wage later in the year.

SERI’s submission focusses on discussing the impact of food insecurity and the implications for the minimum wage.

The impact of rising inflation has been felt by all groups in South Africa. In March 2023, South Africa’s food inflation reached a 14-year high at 14,4%.  The most notable food groups affected include vegetables for which prices have increased by 20,5%, grain products like maize, bread and cereals (20,3%), plant-based oils and fats (16%), milk and eggs (13,6%) and meat (10,6%). However, data from StatsSA shows that the poorest households suffered the highest inflation rate: from April 2022 to April 2023 the cost of living for the poorest households rose from around 6% to 11,3%, in comparison to an increase from around 5,5% to 7,8% for wealthier households. This is due to the sharp increases in food prices which impacted on poorer households the most because they spend approximately half of their annual budgets on food and non-alcoholic beverages, whereas for wealthier households, that proportion is 11%.

SERI submits that food insecurity is a critical lens through which the national minimum wage must be viewed. At the present quantum, the national minimum wage is insufficient to address the immediate needs of food security for the precarious worker. Sufficient quality and quantity of food needed to sustain a low-income household remains out of reach for those who earn the minimum wage. This forces precarious workers to employ coping strategies to stave of hunger, often compromising their physical health in the process.

Consequently, SERI’s key recommendation in this submission is that the adjustment to the minimum wage should take into consideration rising food prices as even those in low-income employment, such as domestic workers and farm workers, are struggling to meet their basic needs.

  • Download the full submission here

[ADVOCACY TRAINING] SERI partners with City University of London and Bertha Foundation to host annual advocacy workshop (8 September 2023).

Between 7 and 11 August 2023, SERI partnered with City University of London and the Bertha Foundation to host an advocacy workshop in Johannesburg. The week-long workshop was aimed at equipping candidate attorneys, attorneys, and junior advocates working in the public interest legal sector with practical experience in litigation and advocacy, with a particular focus on witness handling (leading evidence and cross-examining witnesses), trial skills and bail proceedings. 

The workshop began with two days of lectures, practical demonstrations and practice sessions focusing on key skills development. On the final day, the trainees were placed into teams and prepared overnight for a fully argued mock trial.

The workshop is a unique and critically important practical skills programme that supplies South African public interest legal practitioners with essential courtroom skills to enable them to provide better legal representation to the very poor and vulnerable people they work with across a wide range of different human rights work. In this way, SERI, the Bertha Foundation and City, University of London hope to contribute to the development and strengthening of well-trained, professional advocates working on public interest law.IMG_1174.jpg

[PRESS STATEMENT] City of Johannesburg’s wake up call: fire at Usindiso Shelter for Women and Children (31 August 2023).

This morning Johannesburg  residents  woke up to the devastating news that upwards of fifty lives have been lost in a fire in an inner city building owned by the municipality. SERI deeply regrets the rising loss of lives and we express our condolences to the families of the deceased residents. We wish  a speedy recovery to those in hospital. 

The building, known as Usindiso Shelter for Women and Children, was operating as a shelter for abused women and children until its neglect by the City, resulting in the building falling into disrepair and what the City refers to as its “hijacking”. 

Unfortunately, the fire at the Usindiso shelter is an  example of how the City deals with its shelters, which are occupied by  many of Johannesburg’s  poorest and most vulnerable residents. The conditions of the  shelters and transitional housing need to be urgently improved and people living in them need  access to basic services.

SERI has never litigated against the City of Johannesburg in relation to this building, our only involvement in the building related to the temporary placement of two of our clients by the City of Johannesburg following their displacement by a fire in September 2014. However, SERI has consistently tried to engage the City to improve conditions in its shelters, to no avail. To shift the blame to NGOs, as people speaking for the City are currently doing, speaks to the municipality’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the inner city housing crisis. Despite these tactics, and the City’s ongoing recalcitrance, SERI remains determined in defending the rights of vulnerable people who face illegal evictions in the City of Johannesburg at the hands of either the state or private owners with no alternative accommodation and in direct contravention of the rights entrenched in Constitution.

SERI urges the City to take this unfortunate event  as a wakeup call to proactively improve the conditions in the buildings it owns and manages, as well as other abandoned buildings in order to prevent future loss of life. 

   Contact details:  

  • Khululiwe Bhengu, SERI senior attorney, khululiwe[at]seri-sa.org
  • Edward Molopi, SERI senior advocacy officer, edward[at]seri-sa.org
  • Zolile Shude, SERI candidate attorney, zolile[at]seri-sa.org

Download the statement here.

[WORKSHOP] SERI collaborates with Abahlali baseMjondolo’s Women’s League to host second women's spaces workshop on housing rights and family law (21 August 2023).

On 13 August 2023, SERI collaborated with the Abahlali baseMjondolo’s women’s league in a day long workshop in Amersfoort, Mpumalanga. The purpose of the workshop was to inform participants of their rights under the constitution and legislation both in terms of housing as well as family law. The workshop was attended by approximately 90 participants (men and women) from various settlements including Amersfoort, Daggakraal Perdekop, Platrand, and Volksrus.

Over the course of the day, sessions were hosted on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA), the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE) as well as introduction to marital regimes. Further sessions were held on women in leadership, patriarchy, and power, as well as the role of women in the movement.

Although both the Constitution as well as the PIE act and ESTA protect the rights of occupiers by requiring that an eviction order is granted by the courts, many occupiers, particularly those in informal settlements and farms find themselves at the receiving end of unlawful demolitions and other means of constructive evictions. For many women, these threats to tenure security are compounded because of their gender, and therefore may be vulnerable to eviction from both outside forces as well as eviction from within the household itself.

The workshop forms part of the Women’s Spaces project which focuses on women’s rights to land and housing in sub-Saharan Africa

WM Abahlali

[PRESS STATEMENT] Marikana: Response to Solicitor General's Media Briefing (18 August 2023).

Marikana presser 18Aug2023 1On 17 August 2023, Solicitor General Fhedzisani Pandelani provided an update on the civil claims paid to the victims of the Marikana Massacre in a media briefing. It is unfortunate that in the briefing he made various factually inaccurate comments concerning the claims of the deceased miners’ families. The briefing further characterised the families as unreasonable and opportunistic. Such misrepresentation undermines SERI’s ongoing attempts to constructively engage with the Office of the Solicitor General.

The Solicitor General appears either to be unaware of the nature and process relating to the families’ long outstanding claims or is unfortunately wilfully misrepresenting the position.

The Solicitor General stated that, having settled their loss of support claims, the families are now claiming further damages from the state belatedly, violating the ‘once and for all rule’. This is simply false. A single civil claim was submitted on behalf of 36 families in August 2015. The original claim always included not only loss of support, but also: an apology from the state; compensation for loss of support; provision for future medical expenses for treatment necessitated by the death of their loved ones; general damages for emotional shock and psychological damage caused by the trauma suffered in the immediate aftermath of the massacre and in the years that have followed; and constitutional damages for emotional suffering and grief together with the loss of family life, which includes the loss of parental care for the children of the deceased and spousal support for the widows of the deceased.

The Solicitor General also intimated that the number of claimants has belatedly increased. This, too, is simply false. The original claim was submitted on behalf of 36 families comprising 320 claimants from families that range in size from two to 19 members. These include the families of three miners killed on 13 August 2012 and 33 miners killed on 16 August 2012.

The Solicitor General incorrectly noted that in relation to the ten people who were killed prior to 16 August 2012, his office “has no claim whatsoever that has been lodged against government […] the other ten that died – there was no causation on death […] that was attributable to government or the state.” This is also factually inaccurate because six police officers are currently standing trial for the deaths of three miners and two police officers who were killed on 13 August.

The Solicitor General correctly confirmed that to date the state has settled the claim for loss of support for 34 families and paid out just over R70 million. This includes the families of the three miners killed on 13 August. The amounts paid out to each family were calculated by actuaries chosen by the state and were distributed in three tranches in August 2018, November 2018 and September 2019. Individual families received payments for loss of support ranging from approximately R100 000 to R3 million. The figures were derived from actuarial assessments based partly on the duration of the deceased miner’s prospective employment up until pension age at the time of death.

Regarding the 35th family, SERI received an offer in 2019, however, this offer excluded a family member. This individual claim remains unresolved, mainly due to delays by the state. Regarding the 36th family, until the briefing, the state’s position has been that it would not provide compensation for loss of support as it believed that the deceased miner did not have a duty to support his unemployed siblings and their children. We welcome the update from yesterday’s briefing that the state now considers this 36th family’s claim as “capable of settlement”. We look forward to settling the loss of support claims for the remaining two families.

It is imperative to differentiate the claims for loss of support from those of constitutional and general damages, as well as future medical expenses. General damages transcend monetary evaluation, encompassing loss or harm suffered by a person, such as pain and suffering, emotional harm and loss of amenities of life. The families’ pursuit of general damages aims to ameliorate the grief, shock and trauma they suffered due to the violent manner in which they lost their loved ones.

Constitutional damages stem from a breach of constitutional rights caused by gross state failure. This form of compensation serves as a rectifying mechanism and as a vindication of the constitutional rights breached. Without consequences, constitutionally guaranteed rights have no meaning. Constitutional claims aim to give meaning to constitutional rights, in this case the right to family life, by compensating the claimants, in monetary terms, for the destruction of their families. The widows have lost their husbands and life partners and children have lost a parent.

Claims for loss of support aim to afford the claimants the same standard of living they had when they were being supported by the deceased. We reject the state’s assertion that compensation for loss of support, without more, is sufficient, considering the gross human rights violations characterised by the Marikana Massacre and the impact that it had on the families of the miners. Under international law, these families are recognised as victims due to their immediate familial ties or dependence on individuals who were killed by the state.

The Solicitor General’s briefing was disconcerting in its reflection of the state’s view of what is due to the families. In his own words,

“I think we have done enough. The question that needs to be asked, ‘how long is a piece of string from where we are?’ […] Remarkable strides have been realised in the strategic orchestration and harmonisation of the Marikana litigation. The resolution of numerous claims stands as a testament to our unwavering commitment to justice and due process. However, the introduction of the constitutional damages concept is something that we do not actually have instructions for […]”

The attempt to minimise the families’ claims as driven by opportunism and the insinuation that the families are exaggerating the number of dependents fails to take into account the reality of family dynamics in South Africa that have been shaped by migrant labour, as well as the reliance on the remittances of working family members due to high levels of unemployment.

Furthermore, it is concerning that the Solicitor General was not able to provide an update regarding an apology, a critical facet of the families’ 2015 civil claim. The families have consistently emphasised the need for a direct and sincere apology from the state in facilitating their healing. SERI was compelled to approach the office of the Deputy Judge President this year to manage the court proceedings after efforts to engage the Solicitor General’s office and the State Attorney yielded no progress.

The expeditious resolution of the outstanding damages claims is in the interests of all involved. SERI reaffirms its readiness to engage constructively with the state to hasten the conclusion of the families’ claims. We reaffirm our conviction that justice delayed is justice denied. We remain committed to our pursuit of justice and reparation for the victims of the Marikana Massacre.

Contact details: 

  • Nomzamo Zondo, SERI executive director: Nomzamo[at]seri-sa.org; 071 301 9676
  • Asenati Tukela, SERI attorney: Asenati[at]seri-sa.org.

 

  • Download the press statement here.