Victory for city residents

RELIEVED: Inner city residents celebrate their constitutional court victory yesterday. Pic. Mbuzeni Zulu. 19.02/08. © Sowetan.
RELIEVED: Inner city residents celebrate their constitutional court victory yesterday. Pic. Mbuzeni Zulu. 19.02/08. © Sowetan.

Eric Naki

Human rights and legal groups have welcomed a high court decision to overturn a supreme court of appeal order allowing the Johannesburg City Council to evict inner-city residents from derelict buildings.

On Tuesday, the constitutional court ruled that the supreme court of appeal "should not have granted the order of ejectment" to the city in the absence of meaningful engagement. About 400 families occupy overcrowded buildings in the city.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (Cohre) and the Community Law Centre (CLC) at the University of Western Cape said the judgment was a victory for poor, homeless people.

"For the applicants and poor occupiers more generally, the judgment is a victory", said Jackie Dugard, senior researcher at the Wits centre.

Stuart Wilson, the centre's head of litigation, was pleased that the constitutional court had overruled the appeal court and declared Section 12(6) of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act inconsistent with the Constitution.

The section states that anyone who continues to occupy a property after an eviction notice is served is liable to a maximum fine of R100 for each day of unlawful occupation.

The city used this apartheid-era legislation to evict residents on grounds of health and safety.

Jean du Plessis, Cohre's deputy director, said: "Today's judgment is a landmark victory for the more than 67000 low-income residents of Johannesburg who risk overcrowded living conditions with poor sanitation and the constant threat of eviction, to be near livelihood opportunities.

"It affirms that public authorities must engage seriously and in good faith with the affected occupiers with a view to finding humane and pragmatic solutions. Such respectful, face-to-face engagement gives effect to the constitutional value of human dignity, as well as the right of access to adequate housing enshrined in the Constitution."

Lilian Chenwi, senior researcher at the CLC, said: "The judgment gives effect to South Africa's constitutional commitment to respect and protect housing rights and is also in accordance with relevant international legal standards.

"In all evictions, local authorities must take people's housing rights seriously and seek reasonable ways to avoid the devastation of homelessness by engaging meaningfully with the affected communities."