Court reserves ruling on refugee camps

The shelters for people displaced by xenophobic violence will remain open until a final ruling is received from the Constitutional Court, Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa said on Tuesday.

"It [closing of the shelters] would be in contempt of the court," Shilowa said after the court concluded hearing an urgent application to keep the shelters open until a reintegration plan is produced.

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday reserved ruling on the application, while the government has agreed it will not close the shelters until the court has ruled on the matter.

Jonathan Klaaren, a lawyer associated with the application by the displaced, said: "This gives the parties time to agree on an order."

The Gauteng provincial government has proposed consolidating the people remaining in shelters on a site that will remain open for no more than a month, Shilowa said outside the court earlier.

"These are temporary shelters and can't remain open," Shilowa said.

But the government will consider consolidating the people remaining at the shelters into one place, and not necessarily at one of the present camps.

Lawyers for the displaced and the government were asked by the court to come to an agreement by 10am on Tuesday morning, but by 11.30am both sides said they could not agree.

The matter has been squeezed into spare moments during a hearing on betting laws.

The government expects the police to be able to carry out normal policing duties at the proposed site and wants residents to not recruit others to go and live there.

Lawyer for the displaced Nadine Fourie later told the court that sticking points include their request that 10 days' notice be given before the shelters are consolidated, and that residents there be allowed to apply to see if they qualify for home affairs documentation before being repatriated.

They will agree that residents not canvass or recruit people who do not presently reside in the shelters, and asked for a register to be kept at the camps to allow people who leave for the day to have their tents kept, instead of being pulled down.

Asked whether the government will keep the shelters open until a ruling was delivered, counsel for the state Quintus Pelser said: "The undertaking we have given at the start of the proceedings will stand until such time as the court rules."

Justice Kate O'Regan pointed out that the matter might become moot if the two parties managed to agree. — Sapa

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