Durban High Court stops thousands of evictions
Judge Fikile Mokgohloa‚ sitting in the Durban High Court‚ on Thursday handed down a judgment that struck down a temporary court order that was being used by the MEC for Human Settlements and the eThekwini Municipality to evict thousands of poor people from informal settlements in Durban. The MEC claimed that the order was used only to prevent land invasions.But the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI)‚ acting on behalf of South African shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo‚ and thirty of its members‚ whose homes the municipality destroyed five times by relying on the order‚ argued that it was an “eviction order in disguise”.SERI argued that the order was intended to progressively remove the occupants of more than 1‚500 parcels of open land in Durban without having to follow normal court procedures or give notice to the occupants.Judge Mokogohloa agreed.Eviction‚ the court confirmed‚ was governed by the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act and section 26 (3) of the Constitution. The process prescribed by those instruments had to be followed before the eviction of unlawful occupiers was undertaken.The court said the act and the Constitution were intended to respect the dignity of the poor‚ and ensure that alternative accommodation was provided where needed. The interim order granted to the MEC was not sought or granted under the act‚ nor could it be‚ because it allowed for people to be evicted without court oversight and without notice.“The High Court’s judgment comes at a time when municipalities and land owners are relying more and more on urgent court proceedings to facilitate evictions of informal settlers and destroy their property without having to justify their actions to a court‚” a SERI statement said.“The judgment has national implications‚ and sends a clear message to municipalities and owners seeking similar interdicts that they too are subject to the requirements of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act‚ and the Constitution.“It represents a significant step towards achieving a more just dispensation for people who feel the burden of inequality most in South Africa.”Nomzamo Zondo‚ director of litigation at SERI said‚ “The order the MEC sought to confirm would have resulted in many thousands of people being made homeless.“Our Constitution demands that people who are driven to occupy open land because they have nowhere else to go must be treated with dignity and respect.“They must be given help to live in peace and dignity‚ not cast out onto the street.“Judge Mokgohloa’s judgment is welcome re-affirmation of this."