NGOs to rescue as city stalls

With reference to the article, "Eviction nightmare on Main Street", (January 11 to 17), I am writing to comment on the complete absence of the institution that should be the key player in this situation – the City of Johannesburg.

Based on this, and a string of similar cases, it is clear that the city is able to get away with simply ignoring its constitutional responsibilities. This is not only an unhelpful, bizarrely irresponsible attitude given that, in various pieces of legislation, beginning with the Constitution, shelter is a basic human right and local government has an obligation to ensure that homelessness from evictions does not occur.

Our office is in the Maboneng Precinct, across the road from the building where the evictions took place. With the Maboneng developers, Propertuity, we have drawn in relevant non-governmental organisation support for the evictees.

Appeals to the city have not been successful. Although the evictees' belongings are still inside the locked building – their court challenge is continuing – they are understandably not willing to move from the space they are occupying.

Although this case illustrates the callous disregard of the city government, it also demonstrates both the strength and commitment of the NGO sector and the willingness of the private sector to work collaboratively on important development issues. Therefore, it is ironic that the department of social development is currently engaged in an initiative to control and regulate the NGO sector. As the respected human rights lawyer Richard Rosenthal warned this week, the proposed new regulation is similar to the apartheid laws that restricted NGOs. As this eviction case clearly shows, Rosenthal's comment – that "civil society has to be in a position to act contrarily and sometimes to challenge the government.

The government cannot be its master" – is disturbingly accurate.

This week a cross-sectoral meeting of NGOs and local business will be hosted by Propertuity to investigate both short- and long-term solutions to the problems of inner-city homelessness. The developers of Maboneng have not only invested very substantially in inner-city regeneration, they have also fostered a number of social projects in and around the precinct. If other inner-city developers could follow this example, and the city came to the party, Johannesburg might indeed achieve the world-class status it so proudly claims. – Colleen du Toit, chief executive, Charities Aid Foundation, Maboneng Precinct

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