On 23 October 2017, SERI's executive director, Stuart Wilson, was interviewed by the SABC’s senior reporter, Candice Nolan, regarding the City of Johannesburg’s “the City” continuing strategy to force the poor out of the inner city in order to renovate so-called "bad buildings" and create low-cost rental accommodation.
The proposed rental accommodation is, however, likely to be unaffordable for people currently living in the inner city. The City intends to hand over occupied buildings to private developers to provide affordable rental housing. Wilson cautions against this approach and states that “the private sector cannot afford to provide housing for poor people and at the same time make a profit.” According to the 2011 Census, over 50% of the households in inner-city Johannesburg earn less than R3 200 a month. This means that they cannot afford to pay rental of more than R800 a month. The use of the private sector to provide affordable rental accommodation will result in the vast majority of low income households being are priced out of the rental market.
Furthermore, Wilson raised serious concerns with the approach taken by the City in attaining the required buildings and placing importance on physical buildings rather than the people living in them. More concerning is the use of police raids to force people to leave their homes.
On 29 June 2017, the municipal council of the City of Johannesburg (the City) approved the City of Johannesburg Draft Land Use Scheme, 2017. The land use scheme intends to give effect to section 24(1) of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 16 of 2013 (SPLUMA) by replacing the 16 prevailing town planning schemes with a single consolidated land use scheme, which will apply to the entire municipal area. In City published the land use scheme in August 2017 and invited interested parties to submit comments. SERI submitted written comments on 13 October 2017.
SERI's submission raises a number of concerns about the land use scheme and makes various recommendations on how the council can amend or rectify these concerns. In particular, SERI is concerned that the scheme criminalises unauthorised land uses, fails to give the users and occupiers of land sufficient standing, and fails to make progressive use of special zones and the incremental introduction of land use management to address the challenges posed by informal settlements.
On 8 October 2017, SERI community research and advocacy officer, Edward Molopi, appeared on SABC News to discuss the lack of affordable housing options available to low income households in inner-city Johannesburg. Molopi raised serious concerns about the City of Johannesburg (the City)'s reliance on private sector developers to develop affordable rental housing in city-owned buildings, stating that these developers' profit motive mean that "they are likely to charge much more than people can afford".
According to the 2011 Census, over 50% of the households in inner-city Johannesburg earn less than R3 200 a month. This means that they cannot afford to pay rental of more than R800 a month. Although the City has committed to providing more affordable rental housing in the inner-city, the inability of social housing institutions and private sector developers to produce housing with a rental of less than R800 a month means that the vast majority of low income households are priced out of the rental market.
On 10 October 2017, staff from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) delivered a series of lecturers to government officials as part of the certificate programme on Human Settlement Policy and Management offered by the School of Governance at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. The course aims to capacitate government officials working in South Africa’s housing and human settlements sector by ensuring that officials effectively understand and implement the legal and policy framework governing ‘sustainable human settlements’. The course was attended by approximately 36 current government officials working in housing and human settlements, including officials from the national Department of Human Settlement, officials from the provincial Departments of Human Settlements in Mpumalanga and the North West, and local government officials from municipalities in the Northern Cape, Limpopo and the Free State.
SERI staff delivered various presentations dealing with the inssues of informal settlement upgrading, tenure security of informal settlement residents living on communal land and the law governing evictions. The first presentation, delivered by SERI researcher Tiffany Ebrahim, focused on the implementation of incremental in situ upgrading of the Slovo Park informal settlement in terms of the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP). The presentation emphasised the importance of a local level steering committee, such as the Slovo Park task team, to assist in planning and implementing upgrading projects. Dan Moalahi, a member of the community-based organisation the Slovo Park Community Development Forum (SPCDF), gave officials a brief background on the experiences of the Slovo Park community and detailed the challenges faced in accessing services and mobilising for informal settlement upgrading.
The presentation was followed by a presentation on the tenure security of people living in informal settlements on communal land delivered by SERI candidate attorney, Lwazi Mtshiyo. The presentation was based on SERI's findings in a commissioned research report for the Housing Development Agency (HDA), entitled Tenure Security in Informal Settlements on Customary Land (December 2015).
The day was concluded with a presentation by SERI community research and advocacy officer, Edward Molopi, on the law governing evictions. This included a discussion on the Prevention of Illegal Evictions, and Unlawful Occupation of Land, Act 19 of 1998 (the PIE Act) and the Extension of Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997 (ESTA), as well as an interactive exercise following the screening of the full-length documentary film Dear Mandela.
On 9 October 2017, SERI, on behalf of Rachael Zwane, filed heads of argument in an appeal against her conviction for trespassing. Zwane, a 59 year old woman, lived with her two daughters and four grandchildren in a small house in Ennendale outside of Johannesburg since early 2001. Zwane purchased the house with the assistance of a mortage bond in 2001. In 2008, when Zwane lost her job becasue her employer of 20 years ceased trading, she struggled to keep up with her mortgage bond payments and fell into arrears. Without receiving proper notice, her bank sold her home in execution. The new owner of the property sought and obtained a default eviction order against her. Again, Zwane received no notice of the eviction application, or of the date of the eviction hearing. The first time Zwane became aware of the eviction proceedings was when she was actually forcibly evicted from her home. Left on the street by her house, she, her two children, and four grandchildren, had nowhere else to go. In their desperation, one of Zwane’s grandchildren climbed back into the house through a broken window and opened the front door of the house from the inside. Zwane and her family then re-occupied the property until they were, once again, evicted in 2012.
Three years later, Zwane was brought to trial on criminal charges of house breaking and trespassing in January 2016. The magistrate convicted her on the charge of trespass and acquitted her on the charge of house-breaking.
SERI, on behalf of Zwane, has appealed her conviction to the Pretoria High Court on three ground. First, Zwane argues that she cannot be convicted of the crime of trespassing because the Trespass Act does not apply to those in unlawful occupation of their own homes. To the extent that it ever did, it has been impliedly repealed by the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from, and Unlawful Occupation of, Land Act 19 of 1998 (“the PIE Act”). Second, Zwane says that, if the Trespass Act does apply, it must be unconstitutional, insofar as it criminalises the occupation of a home. Finally, if the Trespass Act is applicable and constitutional, then the sentence handed down by the magistrate amounted to an unjustified eviction and should be set aside on that basis.
The case raises important constitutional issues about the abuse or misuse of the Trespass Act to secure evictions that lead to homelessness. If the appeal is successful in achieving this objective, it will essentially prevent prosecutions for trespass in one’s own home throughout the province of Gauteng.