City of Jo’burg blamed for not providing homes for evictees

The Socioeconomic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri-SA) has accused the City of Johannesburg of doing nothing to provide alternative accommodation for evictees since the landmark 2011 Blue Moonlight judgment, which put the onus for providing alternative accommodation for private evictees on its doorstep.

Earlier this week, over 1 000 occupiers of several inner city Johannesburg buildings issued an application to the high court in Johannesburg requesting the court to declare that the City of Johannesburg has failed to discharge its constitutional obligations: to provide temporary accommodation to poor people facing eviction. 

The 1 000 people occupy six inner city buildings. 

“Most of our clients are already staying in bad conditions,” says Nomzamo Zondo, an attorney at Seri-SA. “The one building has no toilets, no stairwell from the ground to the first floor. People are using a plank to climb up. 

“So if you climb up and fall, you’re going to fall in the shit. The City says it has nine buildings and can’t accommodate our clients because it says it can get money for those buildings and use them for a better purpose. They say it is too expensive to renovate them for temporary accommodation.” 

Relocation of evictees
Zondo says the city first unveiled its special process for the relocation of evictees in March 2012 but in April this year, the City said it is still developing it. The managed care programme has had its fair share of issues. Of the 33 people that first moved from Saratoga Avenue into the Ekuthuleni Shelter in downtown Johannesburg, under the model in 2012, only 13 remain. 

The strictures of shelter life – not least the strict gender lines that separate families – have eaten away at the souls of some these litigants, who as a group of 86, won the landmark Constitutional Court victory in December 2011.

The managed care model, which was implemented by the City for the first time at Ekuthuleni Shelter, was aimed at transforming residents into employable and rent-paying individuals within six months of entering the shelter.  

“Most of our clients are economically active in the informal sector,” says Zondo. “They are either security guards, informal traders or eke out a living some other way. They are economically active but they can’t afford a place in the inner city. 

“If you’re earning R3 100 or less, you’re unlikely to afford a place in the inner city. If you’re earning R2 500, you can’t get a place in the city. The demand for that bracket is high. Private players say they can’t accommodate anybody below R700 per month. And there is nothing at that bracket. 

“In the R1 036 bracket, it gets taken so fast.”

Irrational housing policy
In December 2011, the Constitutional Court upheld a Supreme Court of Appeals order that declared the City of Johannesburg’s housing policy irrational, discriminatory and unconstitutional in that it excluded the provision of alternative accommodation for people evicted from private land. 

The court ordered the eviction of the 86 from Saratoga Avenue, but only after the City had provided them alternative accommodation. The 33 former Saratoga residents got to Ekuthuleni after the city had missed its deadline to provide alternative accommodation. 

Describing the strict access control conditions, Mlungisi Ntuli told the Mail & Guardian: “This means we can only eat before eight o’clock in the morning and again after five in the afternoon … On Saturday and Sunday, I sat in the park the whole day because I had nowhere to go.” 

The conditions led to the April 2013 Dladla case, in which residents sought the suspension of certain gender rules and to interdict and restrain the City and Metro Evangelical Services from evicting residents without a court order. 

This year, the City sought an order to suspend nearly 30 pending evictions claiming it did not have land or buildings to provide for people who are evicted, as it was awaiting the outcome of the Dladla matter. 

The City of Johannesburg did not comment by the time of publishing.

Dozens of evicitions
A City of Johannesburg official speaking anonymously said it was incorrect to suggest that the City was shirking its responsibilities by seeking to suspend nearly 30 pending evictions, as the City was tasked with creating a model after the Blue Moonlight case, created it and now it was being challenged. 

“It would be a waste of time for the City to continue to provide that model only for it to be told that that model is incorrect. 

“There are between 10 and 20 evictions a month in the inner city. Ever since the Blue Moonlight case, private property owners understand that it is the City that is now obligated to provide the accommodation, which constitutionally must be temporary in nature. Now it’s more of a question of what is temporary?”

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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