The Constitutional Court has said that the City of Johannesburg committed a “monumental irregularity” in breaching the rights of 11 poor people to whom it provided temporary accommodation after they were evicted 5 years ago. The City provided the former residents of Saratoga Avenue, Johannesburg, accommodation at the Ekuthuleni Shelter in Johannesburg’s inner city in 2012. But when they got to the shelter, the residents were split up from their families into men’s and women dormitories – even if they were married or had children of the opposite sex. They were also locked out of the shelter during the day under the shelter rules. The residents objected to being separated from their families, and to being locked out of their homes during the day. They approached SERI, who took up their case and asked the Constitutional Court to declare the shelter rules invalid.
SERI argued that the rules had a profoundly negative effect on the residents’ dignity. Those residents on nightshifts were forced to work at night, but were prevented from sleeping at the shelter during the day: they were effectively denied any access to the shelter whatsoever. Married couples separated by gender said that the imposition of the rules “felt like a divorce”. Children coming back from the dentist during the day found themselves locked out of the shelter, in pain and unable to rest. Some of the residents who were locked out of the shelter were assaulted on the streets and could not return to the shelter for rest and protection. One of the locked-out residents was stabbed.
In a judgment handed down today, the Constitutional Court was unanimous in finding that the rules separating the residents’ families and locking them out during the day were in breach of the Constitution. The Court, in four separate judgments, was fiercely critical of the City’s attitude to poor and vulnerable people in need of accommodation. Justice Mhlantla characterised the City’s treatment of the residents as “cruel, condescending and degrading”. Justice Cameron found that the rules were imposed on the residents simply because they were poor. This, he found, was “demeaning”. JusticeJafta found that “the indignity suffered by the [residents] at the hands of the City was egregious”.
The Court struck the rules down and interdicted the City from applying them to the residents for the rest of their stay at the shelter.
The Court’s judgment will set the standard for the provision of accommodation to about 60 000 people living in the Johannesburg inner city who need better and safer accommodation. Nomzamo Zondo,the residents’ attorney, said “The City has throughout treated our clients as less than human. That is also the message that has been sent by Mayor Mashaba’s recent unconstitutional police raids of inner city buildings, and his repeated attempts to demonise the inner city poor as criminal or undeserving. We hope that today’s judgment will result in a change in attitude towards poor and vulnerable people in Johannesburg’s inner city, and that the City – and particularly the Mayor – will begin to treat them with the care, respect and concern they deserve”.
Nomzamo Zondo, SERI director of litigation: 071 301 9676 / 011 356 5868 / firstname.lastname@example.orgEdward Molopi, SERI community research and advocacy officer: 072 210 2984 / 011 356 5885 /email@example.com