The City of Johannesburg narrowly missed being held in contempt of court last week for failing to provide accommodation for residents evicted from a building in the city centre.
Following a Constitutional Court ruling in December ordering the City of Johannesburg to offer alternative accommodation to people evicted from buildings owned by private individuals, the city council failed to meet an April 1 deadline to provide lodgings for residents living in Saratoga building in Berea.
Over 100 residents, of which more than 20 are minors, faced removal from Saratoga on April 15 through the same court order.
The city offered to provide temporary tents until it found other accommodation but the South Gauteng High Court on Friday handed down a last minute court order, which halted the eviction of Saratoga residents until May 2.
“In terms of the Concourt order our clients cannot be rendered homeless for any period of time whatsoever and there was a serious chance this was going to happen, had it not been for this court order,” Kathleen Hardy, attorney at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS).
The court order stipulates the City of Johannesburg must have alternative accommodation available by April 30, after which any remaining residents may be evicted by May 2.
The city must also notify the residents of Saratoga and CALS by April 24 if they will meet their obligations to move residents by the specified deadline.
Hardy said while city officials were “very cooperative” in dealing with the situation recently, the city was initially guilty of “dragging their feet”.
“If they engaged with us in the manner they are doing now when matters came to a head months ago, we wouldn’t be faced with this situation where residents were almost evicted,” she said.
The City of Johannesburg said the court action was “completely unnecessary” as the city council would never “fold its arms and leave people homeless”.
“We were simply faced with a situation where we hadn’t budgeted for the need to find accommodation for so many people and we had to make a contingency plan,” city spokesperson Gabu Tugwana told the Mail & Guardian.
Tugwana also confirmed plans to temporarily accommodate Saratoga residents in tents if they were evicted before alternative housing was available, but said this would be as a “last resort”.
“We have secured alternative accommodation for those affected and at this stage we are confident we will meet our deadline,” Tugwana said.
Tugwana claimed the reasons for the delay in obtaining alternate housing were due to “extensive renovations” being carried out on the building intended to accommodate residents of Saratoga.
The intended accommodation will be ready by April 23 and the city will begin moving residents by April 25, according to Tugwana.
Legal representative for Blue Moonlight Lisa Sher did not respond to questions posted by the M&G as to why the company wished to push ahead with evictions should alternative accommodation not be available.