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Fri Apr 28 14:01:18 SAST 2017

Poor people do win too

Roxanne Henderson | 2015-01-18 23:59:26.0
NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Johannes Matlaila, a pensioner who won a court battle against his eviction, at home in Fairlands, Johannesburg, where he has lived for more than 40years
Image by: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

Two pensioners have won the right to stay on the land they have lived on for four decades despite a developer's attempts to evict them to build townhouses.

The Johannesburg High Court on Friday dismissed an application by All Building and Cleaning Services to evict Lesiba Matlaila, 71, Sophie Khumalo, 71, and Sophie's daughter Connie from a small holding in Fairlands, Johannesburg.

Matlaila had tended the vegetable garden and livestock on the small holding for his employer, a Mr Twaalfhoven, since the 1970s and Sophie kept the house. Connie has never lived anywhere else.

After Twaalfhoven's death in 2008 the property changed ownership a number of times.

The current owner, All Building and Cleaning Services, wants to build townhouses on the land and applied for an eviction order in November 2013.

On Friday, Acting Judge Paul Carstensen dismissed their case. 

Said Matlaila: “I’m very happy about the judgment. I didn’t expect to win this case because poor people don’t win.”

Carstensen found that the company had not proven that eviction would be just and equitable. The company failed to satisfy the court that it had meaningfully engaged the residents and provided them with alternative accommodation.

The judge took exception to what he called “intimidatory tactics” in the form of an attempted forceful eviction.

On Freedom Day in 2013, young men claiming to be the owners arrived at the property in a truck and started dismantling the resident’s homes. Neighbours intervened and Matlaila obtained a restraining order, but they had already damaged the plumbing of the three dwellings on the grounds.

In spite of the damage to his home, Matlaila, who earns about R3 700 monthly doing gardening work, is looking ahead with optimism.

“I will get someone to fix the sewerage pipe and then the roof, which they also destroyed. I’ll do all the renovations that I can do,” he said.

Nomzamo Zondo, a lawyer with the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, who acted for the residents, said: “This case serves as a warning that property developers must treat poor people who they find living on newly-purchased land with dignity and respect. Our constitution demands nothing less.”

If the company had offered Matlaila and the Khumalos homes in the new development, there would have been no problem, Carstensen said. Instead, All Building and Cleaning Services's "attitude and conduct evidences a disregard for the Constitution and the respondents' statutory rights", the judge said.

Company director Leon Linde said that the company had not yet decided how it would proceed.

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