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covid19 Archives | Eviction Lawyers South Africa

Evictions amid COVID-19, our social fabric could tear apart

By | Eviction news

If we are to come out of this lockdown without the stain of another massacre on our national conscience, the government needs to take decisive action against the brutal forms of policing that are increasingly generating anger and turning people against the state.

In the middle-class bubble, lockdown in Durban means much the same as it does for middle-class people the world over. Life seems to be organised around Zoom meetings, homeschooling and Netflix, and trying, without much success, to keep fit without being able to ride our bikes or go running.

But outside of the middle-class bubble, Durban is on a razor’s edge. For weeks now, it has been clear that many people have run out of food. Abahlali baseMjondolo, the city’s most powerful

grassroots organisation, is doing what it can for its members; and many religious organisations are doing sterling work too.

Millions of rands have been raised to feed the poor, but it’s never enough. Shopkeepers and grassroots leaders say that they can feel the tension in the air, and that it will just take one spark to set off a major food riot. If that happens, the great fear is that we will have another state massacre, another Marikana on our hands.

Another issue that has put the city on a knife-edge is that daily evictions, often accompanied by gratuitous state violence, are being carried out against shack dwellers. The city’s activists are all sure that the lockdown has, as we have also seen in Cape Town and Johannesburg, been used as a cover to mount a sustained attack on the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Abahlali baseMjondolo has been hit particularly hard with informal settlements affiliated to the movement being attacked on what seems to be a daily basis. There have been serious injuries and anger is at boiling point. It would be no surprise if the movement’s members felt that under the circumstances, they have no option but to return to the streets in their thousands. If this happens there is, again, the great fear of another state massacre.

Although the poor are always more vulnerable to any health crisis, we are all, rich and poor, vulnerable to Covid-19. We are all lucky that, unlike Thabo Mbeki or Donald Trump, we have a president who takes medical science seriously and has appointed the best doctors in the country to plan and manage our response to this crisis.

But lockdown means fundamentally different things for the middle-class and for the poor. There are people in the middle classes who face the loss of jobs or businesses and a real decline in their economic situation. But for many, the lockdown is largely just a matter of enduring a set of manageable frustrations. But for poor people, who often have no savings and can’t eat if they don’t work, the lockdown is a very different situation. Hunger places people in a desperate situation. The attacks on their already precarious homes radically compound the desperation.

At the same time as hunger is pushing people into deeper and deeper desperation, the ongoing evictions, and the state violence that accompanies them, is rapidly undermining popular consent for the lockdown and popular trust in the state. The social fabric could easily tear.

At the beginning of the lockdown, the state was impressively effective in its rapid roll-out of water to informal settlements that had previously not had access to water. It now needs to do the same, and with the same speed, with food.

It is absolutely vital that the national government must intervene to stop these evictions. They are unlawful, they put people at tremendous risk during the pandemic and they are rapidly turning the poor against the state.

The expansion to the grant system is a welcome development, as is the inclusion of progressive policy experts that allowed this to happen. But it won’t be enough to stave off a growing crisis of hunger. It is, therefore, equally vital that the full urgency of the situation is grasped and that food is immediately made available to the hungry. Hunger is not something that can be addressed via the usual bureaucratic process. It needs to be addressed immediately. And with emotions already running high, it is absolutely vital that ward councillors are not allowed to steal food, or to direct it to their own networks rather than on the basis of need.

At the beginning of the lockdown, the state was impressively effective in its rapid roll-out of water to informal settlements that had previously not had access to water. It now needs to do the same, and with the same speed, with food.

Along with the urgent need to stop evictions and to provide food to the hungry, there is a third imperative that must be taken seriously if we are to come out of this lockdown without the stain of another massacre on our national conscience: The national government needs to take decisive action against the brutal forms of policing that are increasingly generating anger and turning people against the state.

To his credit, President Cyril Ramaphosa has explicitly stated that the police and the army should see their role as offering social assistance in this crisis, and that they should not collapse into brutality. But social media is awash with images and videos of police brutality. Anger is running high and there is a real risk of serious conflict.

Ramaphosa impressed many with his decisive action against errant minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. He now, as a matter of urgency, needs to do the same with members of the police and the army who have been shown to have participated in the abuse and violence of ordinary people. Quick and decisive action will go a long way to restoring popular confidence in the state, and to reducing the risk of a breakdown in consent for the lockdown.

Plans are afoot to impose stricter lockdown rules in Durban while the rest of the country moves to a slightly moderated level four lockdown. This makes sense in light of the escalating rate of Covid-19 infections in the city. But if the issues of hunger, evictions and police brutality are not addressed, a stricter lockdown could result, in the days and weeks to come, in real social conflict.

The same level of expertise and the same degree of commitment that has been brought to the medical aspects of the current crisis now need to be brought in to resolve the questions of hunger, stop the evictions and stop the police brutality. The situation is urgent, and time and tide do not wait for bumbling bureaucracies. DM

Source: Daily Maverick (emphasis by SD LAW*)

* SD Law, aka Simon Dippenaar & Associates Inc., is a law firm of specialised eviction attorneys, and property lawyers, based and serving landlords and tenants in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban.

Is it legal to evict anyone during lockdown? No, say legal experts

By | Eviction news

An army of red ants members arriving at Kokotela informal settlement in Lawley outside Ennerdale.

An army of red ants members arriving at Kokotela informal settlement in Lawley outside Ennerdale. (Ntwaagae Seleka, News24)

Evicting people from their homes during the national lockdown against the spread of Covid-19 is an offence and should be punishable by a fine or imprisonment.This is the view of legal experts amid the eviction of land occupiers in Lawley outside Ennerdale at the weekend.

News24 reported the Red Ants had demolished scores of shacks and houses in Lawley on Saturday, leaving many people homeless. They returned on Tuesday to continue demolishing structures.

This has led to a public outcry and has prompted Gauteng Human Settlements, Urban Planning and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Lebogang Maile to clarify the actions of the City of Johannesburg at a briefing on Tuesday.

The government has made it clear that no evictions would be allowed for the duration of the lockdown “regardless of whether it is a formal or informal residence or a farm dwelling”.

But the issue of illegal land occupation during the lockdown could equally not be tolerated, Maile said on Saturday.

Following criticism, he said on Tuesday the destroyed structures were “actually new structures that were not occupied by anyone”.

This is an important consideration when it comes to the legality of destroying dwellings that are already occupied.

According to advocate and former judge Anna-Marie de Vos SC who specialises in socioeconomic and land rights litigation, there was a difference between stopping land invasions and evicting people from their homes.

“If you are in the process of invading land, in other words you’re putting up your structures and materials, that is invasion, and that can be stopped without a court order. That is called counter-spoliation. Spoliation is the concept of taking the law into your own hands.

“The argument of the municipality is that the [land occupiers] are spoliating – in other words, they’re taking land unlawfully, and therefore you can stop them with a counter-spoliation action.”

Catch-22 situation

But, said De Vos, there was a thin line between invading land and already living on it.

“The test would be: Do they already sleep there? Are their possessions there? Do they cook there? 

“Once that has been established – even if it’s just for a day or two – then people can’t be evicted. But if they’re still in the process of erecting buildings, then you are entitled to do that because it’s not an eviction you are stopping a land invasion.”

She added she had dealt with many cases where people have been evicted, even though it was clear from examining their dwellings they lived there – indications such as curtains, mattresses or cooking equipment. “That is not allowed.”

According to her, the situation under the lockdown made it exceptionally difficult for NGOs to determine the merits when it came to evictions, because of restrictions of movement and gaining access to the courts.

“You need to get a letter from the Legal Practitioners’ Council for every case – so it becomes a Catch-22 situation. When people are being evicted unfairly, they have no access to legal practitioners and legal practitioners have no access to them. You can’t get a letter unless you have a client and you can’t get a client unless you have a letter to go there.”

According to Louise du Plessis, the head of the land and housing programme at Lawyers for Human Rights, once people have occupied structures such as shacks, municipalities have to bring a court application to evict them, and the current lockdown regulations did not allow for that.

“Destroying homes where people already live is illegal. There is no way people can be evicted if they already live in those structures – not without a court order. For now, the government cannot touch them. They can bring an application after the lockdown and have them evicted then.”

What is the legal recourse for evictees?

Du Plessis said if it could be proven that people have been living in their structures, even for a short time, removing them was unlawful.

She echoed what De Vos said, adding it was impossible to get a case number without consulting with people, which was restricted during the lockdown.

“Anyone evicted unlawfully during the lockdown will have a good case to take to court on an urgent basis to go back to where they were,” said Du Plessis.

“Civil society – such as Lawyers for Human Rights, the Legal Resources Centre and Socioeconomic Rights Institute – should be able to access these people and assist them,” said De Vos.

“Second, NGOs, which specialise in social matters, should engage with the government – especially on municipal level – to stop them from illegally evicting people. If what I’m seeing is an illegal eviction and not merely stopping a land invasion, it’s a disgrace.”

Structures ‘incomplete, unoccupied’

On Tuesday, Maile said, subsequent to the demolitions in Lawley, “we had engagements with the mayor of the City of Johannesburg seeking clarity on the matter and he explained that the structures that were demolished were actually new structures that were not occupied by anyone”.

“What happened at Lawley last Sunday, was that we had planned a visit to the area along with the mayor of Johannesburg in order to undertake an assessment of the situation on the ground following the demolition of incomplete and unoccupied structures.

“These structures were demolished to prevent land invasions,” Maile said, adding the land was unoccupied.

On Sunday, the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Machwene Semenya, raised concerns over alleged evictions carried out by municipalities in Durban, Lawley in Johannesburg, and Cape Town.

In a statement, Semenya said the evictions were “unfortunate and inappropriate”, especially during the lockdown that was declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“The evictions glaringly diminish the intentions of the lockdown and expose already vulnerable people to Covid-19 and other harmful elements such as crime and rainy weather.

“When the president and the executive announced that there will be no evictions, we understood that those instructions would be respected by all.

“It is therefore unacceptable that municipalities have undermined the spirit of the lockdown and have shown clear disdain and lack of empathy for the people, especially the poor,” Semenya said.

“We urge the municipalities to desist and refrain from any planned evictions henceforth, and to abide by the regulations.”

Semenya cautioned against the illegal occupation of land by communities; however, due to the lockdown, she said she hoped there would be no evictions.

“Illegal occupation of the land undermines the law of the country and should not be tolerated.”

On Monday, the City of Cape Town said it had delivered material to 49 households who illegally occupied a piece of land in Khayelitsha so as to adhere to the interim court order for temporary relief to these illegal occupiers during the remainder of the Covid-19 crisis.

The court will assess the merits of the case after the lockdown ends.

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Ramaphosa called on to stop forced removal of ‘occupiers’ during lockdown

By | Eviction news, Homeless

Ramaphosa called on to stop forced removal of ‘occupiers’ during lockdown

About 30 shacks were demolished on Thursday in Empolweni informal settlement in April 2020. Photo: Vincent Lali / GroundUp

Analyst blames the latest round of evictions on government’s failure to provide shelter to homeless communities.

Less than a month since Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu made public assurances that no evictions would take place during the lockdown, her local government counterparts have done the opposite, with some having enlisted Red Ant Security Relocation & Eviction Services to forcibly remove people deemed to have occupied land illegally.

Scenes of communities being removed without being offered alternative accommodation in some parts of the country have led to a human rights body, the Anti-Repression Working Group (ARWG), appealing in a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Covid-19 National Command Council for intervention.

ARWG said South Africa experienced an upsurge in “alarming incidences of state violence and unlawful mass evictions of vulnerable people”.

“It does not give municipalities and security forces licence to use this disaster as an opportunity to exert power over the powerless,” said ARWG spokesperson Thato Masiangoako.

He said evictions were most prevalent in Cape Town, eThekwini and Gauteng.

“We appeal to the president to direct the Minister of Cooperative Governance, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola to notify all local governments to halt all evictions,” said Masiangoako.

Human settlements spokesperson McIntosh Polela said: “The minister is currently in Cape Town, engaging the stakeholders and assisting the people that have been left homeless and destitute as a result of what happened in Makhaza.

“The information the minister was given was that those people were backyard dwellers who were kicked out by landlords in the informal settlements because they could not afford to pay the rent.

“They then tried to occupy empty shacks and were prevented from doing so by the police.

“People should not use the regulations to invade land. Municipalities will be right to prevent them from doing so.”

In recent weeks, Sisulu has been engaging mayors and councillors during a crusade to ensure evictions were suspended during the lockdown.

Her appeal included property owners.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga blamed the latest evictions on government’s failure to provide shelter to homeless communities.

“Whether government evicts people or not, it will always remain with the problem of communities, who need closer monitoring during the lockdown,” he said.

“If there were adequate temporary shelters for the homeless, government would be able to focus on managing communities confined in one identifiable area.

“Practically, government is not in a position to evict people because it has no arrangement to provide temporary shelters.

“If we had such shelters, we would manage homeless communities better and would be able to enforce some form of social distancing, including other lockdown regulations.”

– brians@citizen.co.za

Source: Citizen (emphasis by SD Law*)

Further reading:

* SD Law, aka Simon Dippenaar & Associates Inc., is a law firm of specialised eviction attorneys, and property lawyers, based and serving landlords and tenants in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban.