State can’t evict willy-nilly

2012-08-25 16:17

Association takes the city to the Constitutional Court to allow people to live in their dangerous building again.

The City of Tshwane seized the opportunity created by violent unrest at one of its rental buildings to “fabricate a mess” and unlawfully justify evicting thousands of residents without properly following the law, the Constitutional Court heard this week.

These claims form part of the Schubart Park Residents’ Association court challenge.

The association has asked South Africa’s highest court to force the city to return people to their homes in the block of flats – even though the building has been condemned and declared dangerous for human habitation.

In September last year residents embarked on a series of violent protests after the city council disconnected Schubart Park’s water and electricity. Residents were then evicted, and the North Gauteng High Court issued an order upholding the decision.

It is this order which the association is contesting – its lawyer told the court this week that the City of Tshwane had not obtained an eviction order before removing the 700 families from their homes.

The association’s lawyer, Rudolph Jansen SC, acknowledged that the building posed a danger to the public and residents, but said residents were adamant they should be allowed to return. The association also wants the water and electricity reconnected.

Jansen said the city had “abused this situation (of violent unrest) to achieve this goal of eviction, which they planned for some time.”

A group of former Schubart Park residents protested outside the court during proceedings this week, denouncing the eviction.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Serisa) is also arguing against the evictions as a friend of the court.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa is a second respondent in the ­matter.

Advocate Stuart Williams SC, representing Serisa, told the court: “This case is not really about the residents’ safety, nor the habitability of the property. It is about the ease with which the state entered and removed 3 000 people from their homes, without any legal warrant whatsoever.”

Williams said the city’s assertion that the building was a “death trap” should not have been used to justify the eviction because, according to the city’s own documents, the council had intended to evict residents as early as January 2009 but had failed to do so by then.

Advocate Mzizi Mphaga, for the city council, appealed to the court not to grant the appeal against the eviction.

He said that doing so would be “counter-productive” because the council intended to demolish and rebuild the Schubart Park complex.

If the council was forced to return people to the existing building, Mphaga said, the city would have to spend R900 million on renovations.
 
The same amount of money is estimated to be necessary to build a new, bigger and safer block from scratch after demolishing the old buildings.

The court reserved judgment.



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