On 5 May 2020, the North Gauteng High Court will hear arguments in an urgent application brought by the family of Mr Collins Khosa. The matter arises following the brutal death of Mr Khosa on 10 April 2020 when members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) who were accompanied by Johannesburg Metro Police Officers (JMPD) accused him of breaking lockdown regulations. SANDF and JMPD members who were patrolling in Alexandra township, entered Mr Khosa’s home armed with sjamboks and accused him of breaking lockdown regulations because of the unattended camp chair and a cup of partially consumed alcohol that was in the front yard of his home. Mr Collins Khosa died from injuries sustained from an attack that ensued after he tried to explain that consuming alcohol on one’s own property did not constitute a lockdown violation.
The matter revolves around concerns of abuses and brutality carried out against members of the public during the lockdown imposed by the President to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the first day of the lockdown on 26 March 2020, there have been numerous reports of abuse, excessive use of force, police brutality and misconduct by members of the South African Police Service (SAPS), South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Municipal Police Departments and other law enforcement officials all of whom have been tasked with enforcing the regulations and directions issued in terms of the declared National State of Disaster.
The family is seeking a court order that will, amongst other things, afford them an independent investigation into the death of Mr Khosa, compel the Minister of Defence and Minister of Police to develop a code of conduct and operational procedure in terms of Section 19 of the Defence Act 42 of 2002, develop a clear set of guidelines for the enforcement of the lockdown regulations and directions, and establish an effective complaints and investigative mechanism to investigate all abuses by security forces during the lockdown.
Contrary to the submissions made by the Minister of Defence, SERI submits that Section 19 of the Defence Act must apply to the military’s deployment during the lockdown and that Section 19(3)(c) of the Act makes clear that “service in co-operation with the South African Police Service must be performed in accordance with” a code of conduct, operational procedures and guidelines published by the Minister of Defence.
SERI submits that “at the heart of this case is the need to fill the lacuna left by the absence of these checks, and to preclude the repetition of the tragedy that brought the applicants to court.
This week, the Business Day published a co-written article by Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance’s Amy Tekie and SERI’s Kelebogile Khunou on the plight of domestic workers during the lockdown period. The domestic worker sector is the most vulnerable as few employees are registered under the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and cannot access relief funds.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown in SA have had a devastating effect on the lives of domestic workers and their families across the country... Many have been dismissed unfairly or put on unpaid leave. A survey conducted earlier in the month by Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance in Johannesburg found that only 38% of 600 respondents were being paid full wages during the lockdown period.”
The article further notes that unless the department of employment and labour acts expeditiously, conditions are likely to become much worse for domestic workers in the coming months.
SERI represents Abahlali baseMjondolo and the residents of eKhenana informal settlement in an interdict application against the City of eThekwini. This case arises from the Interdict application brought by the occupiers of eKhenana informal settlement in Cator Crest, Durban on 24 December 2018. There are 109 households in total and about 201 people including children and elderly people. Most of the households are women-headed households.
The eKhenana informal settlement was established in August 2018 on a piece of vacant land in Cator Crest. Following their occupation, the City attempted to demolish and unlawfully evict the occupiers on several occasions. On 27 December 2018, SERI challenged these on-going evictions against the occupiers. The matter was postponed to allow for both parties to file their supplementary affidavits. In the interim, the court interdicted the municipality and its land invasion unit from continuing with evicting or demolishing homes in the eKhenana Informal Settlement. The court also restricted the residents from erecting any new structures.
However, the municipality continued to illegally demolish homes in the settlement. On 13 February 2019, Abahlali, represented by SERI, approached the Durban High Court on an urgent basis to interdict eThekwini Municipality from demolishing homes in the settlement. The court granted the interdict and instructed officials of the Land Invasion Unit together with leaders from Abahlali to convene a joint inspection in the settlement in order to seek agreement on the demarcation of the site.
On 22 April 2020 , the City and its contracted security agency, Calvin Family Security Services demolished 14 homes in the settlement. These homes were demolished without a court order and while the interdict was still in effect. SERI filed an urgent application to the High Court for an interdict, contempt and compensation for the damage to the property. The matter was settled and an undertaking was signed on 24 April 2020 wherein the City undertook to “refrain from demolishing, burning and removing or disposing of the Applicant’s informal housing structures in the informal settlement or from causing this to take place”. However, minutes after the judgment was issued the eThekwini Municipality’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit attacked the occupation and shot one of the occupiers who was rushed to hosipital with serious injuries.
In accordance with the announcement on 25 April 2020 by Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, informal waste recyclers will be permitted to operate at 50% capacity under level 4 of the lockdown. As of 1 May 2020, South Africa will move to Level 4. SERI welcomes the inclusion of informal waste reclaimers.
On 23 April 2020, SERI submitted recommendations to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) on the COVID-19 regulations and directions to allow informal waste reclaimers to operate during the lockdown. The submission was also sent to the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the Minister of Environmental Forestry and Fisheries.
Considering the harmful impact that the lockdown has had on the ability of many who make a living in the informal economy, the submission called for the inclusion of informal reclaimers in the definition of essential services.
On Thursday, 23 April 2020, SERI in collaboration with Ndifuna Ukwazi, Lawyers for Human Rights, Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, Legal Resource Centre and ProBono.Org addressed a statement to the National Command Council, relevant Cabinet Ministers and respective Provincial Departments of Human Settlements.
The statement addresses the insufficient measures currently in place to safeguard against landlords disconnecting a tenant’s electricity and water connection during the lockdown.
The organisations note, with concern, that evictions have continued during the national lockdown despite COVID-19 regulations explicitly prohibiting the eviction of people from their homes.
“Since the beginning of the lockdown we have collectively received 82 reports and requests for assistance from persons being evicted or threatened with eviction by private landlords during this national lockdown. We note that these are cases that have been reported to this collective, it is likely that there are many more across the country. In some instances, the SAPS have been helpful in protecting tenants but this is not always the case. We are now also increasingly receiving reports that landlords have disconnected electricity and water or have threatened to disconnect water and electricity. The disconnection of electricity and water deprives a tenant of essential services which are needed to combat COVID-19 and significantly denudes the underlying reasons why a person’s home is considered their first line of defence.”
To this end, the organisations call on the National Command Council and the relevant provincial and municipal task teams:
Read the full statement here.