Top court reserves judgement on city evictions

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday reserved judgement in an application by residents of derelict inner-city buildings in Johannesburg against a Supreme Court of Appeal order in favour of their eviction.

Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke urged the 300 residents of two buildings, San Jose in Berea and 197 Main Street, and the Johannesburg municipality to reach a settlement.

“This is a case which we believe should be settled by the parties,” he said. “Obviously the court will do its duty if no settlement is reached and will reach a finding.” He added the court may issue direction to help them.

The case is being watched closely by an estimated 67 000 people in central Johannesburg who have been faced with eviction without alternative accommodation being provided.

Moseneke added: “But obviously the parties have the opportunity while the matter is reserved to approach one another and the court with proposals.”

He said the court deemed it proper that they follow this route.

Tuesday’s court proceedings saw argument by lawyers for both sides, following the Supreme Court of Appeal ruling in favour of the municipality.

During the proceedings, Justice Yacoob offered the municipality a court order as alternative to a ruling to consult and negotiate properly with the residents in search of a solution.

Yacoob said the court accepted that from recent affidavits from the municipality, there had been a change in approach from the city over the past two-and-a-half years. Unlike in the past, the city now has money available to arrange alternative accommodation and is preparing plans on how to deal with such evictions.

A key objection by the 300 residents was that they were offered alternative accommodation too far away from economic opportunities, which was in breech of their constitutional rights.

After being asked about his client’s willingness to accept the offer, Jeremy Gauntlet, for the Johannesburg municipality, expressed willingness to consult with the 300, from two buildings, but not a class of 67 000 people.

He also suggested that there might be many more than this number of people occupying unsafe buildings, with instability in neighbouring countries bringing about an influx of people into Johannesburg.

His counterpart, Paul Kennedy, said that his clients were distrustful of the municipality and called for proper water supply and refuse-collection services to be provided to the residents with immediate effect.

Gauntlet told the court that water supply to one of the buildings would be impossible following “unspeakable” damage to the plumbing.

Further argument focused on the constitutionality of eviction laws and what constituted an emergency.

On March 26, Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Louis Harms said that he found the city’s notice to vacate due to fire and health hazards was not unconstitutional or unlawful.

“Moreover, the obligation of the occupiers to comply with that order is not dependent upon their being provided with alternative accommodation,” he ruled.

The city had given notice of eviction to the residents under the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, which enables the city to prevent people under its jurisdiction from living in dangerous conditions.—Sapa

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