Jo'burg evictions 'barbaric' and 'unconstitutional'

The mass evictions from a building in Bree Street in central Johannesburg are “utterly barbaric” and unconstitutional, a legal expert said at the site on Thursday afternoon.

Stuart Woolfson, of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, said to evict people without giving them interim shelter is cruel and an abuse of human rights.

“Alternative accommodation is never provided by [the city] council to these desperately poor people,” Woolfson said. “The council never gives the occupants a chance to be heard or oppose the court orders.”

Woolfson said such evictions may soon be a thing of the past if a high court case, brought by the Wits Law Clinic on behalf of tenants from six buildings facing eviction, is successful. Five of the buildings are in Berea.

The law clinic will argue that the eviction process used by the Johannesburg City Council is unconstitutional.

Woolfson said most court orders for evictions are applied for and received on an urgent basis.

In the case of the Bree Street evictions, the court order stated that tenants would have to leave by December 17 last year.
The court order was granted because of serious by-law contraventions. The municipality has pronounced the building unsafe.

“If the health conditions are really so terrible, why did it take seven months for the council to implement the eviction?” Woolfson asked. “The council is just chasing poor people around the city.”

Meanwhile, former residents of Bree Chambers continued to crowd a spot where the Red Ants—the nickname for the men in red overalls conducting the eviction—were placing their belongings.

The Wits Law Clinic team, after speaking to evicted people on the street, said some had paid rent the day before the evictions.

Tenants on various floors of the building said rent ranged from R500 to R800 a month.

“These people have been betrayed by their landlord,” said Woolfson.

Earlier, the police found a stolen car in the Bree Chambers garage.

The Nissan, which had been stripped, was stolen from Vanderbijlpark last year, said Captain Andre Merckel.

By 4pm, the Red Ants, who are contracted to the city’s metro council, had worked their way up to the ninth and 10th floors of the 16-storey building. It used to be an office block, and had been illegally used as dwellings.

Zandiswa Nongqotho (24), who had been living in a flat with her two children for six months, said she did not know why she was being evicted.

“We don’t know what to do. We will just go outside and wait. We have no money and there are no flats in this area for us,” she said.

Inside the building, water and electricity was still connected but the conditions in the small rooms were terrible, a South African Press Association reporter said.

Some rooms had six mattress crammed into them and the communal bathrooms were heavily vandalised, he said.

Roopa Singh, a municipal spokesperson, said between 500 and 700 people were evicted.

“The conditions that exist within the building pose serious threats to the health and safety of the occupants,” she said.

Democratic Alliance councillor Daniel Mohlatlole said that negotiations with the residents had been going on for two years.

“There is nothing more we can do now,” he said. “These people must look for another place. We want people to be safe.”—Sapa

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