Court victory for poor families faced with eviction from historic Woodstock

07 September 2021 - 16:38
Bromwell Street residents of Woodstock celebrate a court victory against the city of Cape Town.
Bromwell Street residents of Woodstock celebrate a court victory against the city of Cape Town.
Image: Zacharia Mashele

The City of Cape Town has lost a high court battle to evict a group of poor families from a row of cottages in historic Woodstock, where they have been living for many years.

The cottages in Bromwell Street were sold to developers who obtained an eviction order against 23 families in 2016.

The families sought legal assistance to oppose eviction on the basis that the city’s emergency housing programme was unjust. The council had planned to relocate the families to the outskirts, a move which prompted comparisons with the apartheid government’s District Six forced removals when many families were relocated from centrally located land to the Cape Flats.

The families argued the city’s emergency housing programme was unconstitutional and unjust in that they would be relocated far away from their former homes, and denied temporary housing offered to other families in need of temporary or transitional housing.

The city’s policy was inconsistent and illogical, the families argued — a view upheld on Monday by the Cape Town high court.

Judge Mark Sher ruled that the city’s emergency housing policy was “irrational” as there was no consistency in the solutions offered to different groups of evictees.

“To my mind ...  this differentiation in treatment in relation to evictees in Woodstock and Salt River is unfair and unreasonable,” Sher said.

“Evictees such as the applicants who have been living in Woodstock and Salt River for many years (in some instances since their birth) are at risk of having to be relocated either to the outskirts of the city or to informal settlements outside the city, away from their workplace, educational facilities, clinics and places of religious worship, while other evictees will not be subjected to these same disadvantages.

“Consequently, in my view the differentiation in treatment which the city’s emergency housing programme affords to homeless evictees in the inner city, and in Woodstock and Salt River in particular, is not only unreasonable but also irrational, because it is arbitrary in its implementation.”

Disha Govender, attorney for the residents, said her clients’ rights had been vindicated.

This case has highlighted that the city needs to proactively plan for emergency housing needs which are only growing and that it needs to be responsive and accountable to the people it is meant to serve.
Disha Govender, attorney for the Bromwell Street residents

“We believe the judgment and order will go a long way to ensuring that the Bromwell residents are not displaced from the only community they have ever known and hope that it will result in systemic change at the city level in how it responds to the emergency housing needs of evictees,” she said.

“This case has highlighted that the city needs to proactively plan for emergency housing needs which are only growing and that it needs to be responsive and accountable to the people it is meant to serve.”

Chanell Commando, the first applicant in the case, said: “I would like to thank everyone who was with us in this fight. I would like to thank our lawyers for helping us and explaining things to us and thank those who supported us through protests and who were there through the struggle with us.

“I am very happy for this victory because it can help people who are in the same situation – people who never knew their rights, people who don’t know what is happening when evictions are happening to them.

“I would like the city to engage more and see where people come from because this case is not just about us, it’s about what is happening in our community.

“I would like to also even thank the judge for seeing what this case really was and how it affected people’s lives and livelihoods.”

This story will be updated when comment is received from the City of Cape Town. 

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