Ekuthuleni shelter rules infringed on rights, disrupted families: judge

23 August 2014 - 11:31 By Roxanne Henderson
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File photo.
File photo.

Once a month fifty-six-year-old Thulisile Zungu hosts her son in a Johannesburg public park when he travels from Pretoria to visit her, because the shelter she lives in locks her out between eight in the morning and half past five in the evening on weekdays.

But from now on Zungu will have access to the shelter around the clock.

This was the ruling made in Johannesburg on Friday, when the high court found two of the house rules enforced at the Ekuthuleni shelter “an unjustifiable infringement” on the residents’ constitutional rights to dignity, freedom and security of person and human dignity with “humiliating consequences”.

Judge Lotter Wepener interdicted the City of Johannesburg and its service provider, Metropolitan Evangelical Services, who manages the shelter, against enforcing the two rules which locks residents out during the day and separates residents by gender.

Following the Constitutional Court’s Bluemoon Judgment in 2011, a court order tasked the City with providing the residents of seven Saratoga Avenue with temporary accommodation following their eviction. 

Some evictees were relocated to Ekuthuleni in May 2012. When they found the arrangement to be inadequate, 33 of them, including Zungu, launched an application against the City in the high court in October 2012.

Acting for the 33, the Socio-economic Rights Institute (SERI) argued that the rules implemented at Ekuthuleni are a violation of their rights enshrined in sections 10, 12 and 14 of the Constitution.

Shelter rules three and four require residents to leave the premises for an entire working day. Another policy enforced at the shelter bans married couples and life partners from living together by separating those who reside at the shelter according to gender.

The shelter facility is made up of 30 gender differentiated dormitories which can accommodate 100 people on bunk beds. In October 2012, following incidents of sexual harassment, shelter managers had a security gate installed between dormitories of men and women.

But Wepener found the division that separates spouses “an infringement of a fundamental human right”. He added that it “compromises and disrupts the family as a unit” and “creates emotional distance in a relationship.”

Of the daily lock-out rule, Wepener found that its implementation is a violation of the residents’ rights to privacy and dignity and that it “results in residents being exposed to dangers inherent in street life”.

Following his judgment, Ekuthuleni must allow residents, who wish to do so, communal space in which to live as spouses or life partners and do away with the daily lock-out rule.

Zungu, who currently works as a gardener, said the judgment was unbelievable and that it made her “very happy”.

Nomzamo Zondo of SERI urged the City not to appeal the judgment, as it means other evictees who are provided temporary accommodation in the future will not have to face the humiliation those at Ekuthuleni endured under the shelter’s rules.

The City’s communications director Gabu Tugwana said, “Our legal team is studying the outcome and will make an informed decision after studying it, and will possibly appeal [the decision].”


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