Sexwale: Ruling could cause chaos

2010-03-10 22:21

Cape Town - Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale said on Thursday government could approach Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo to voice concern that a landmark court ruling on evictions would throw housing policy into chaos.

Sexwale told the National Assembly during question time that while he respected "the separation of powers" there was a danger case law could impact on policy with dramatic consequences.

"It may end up pushing us into chaos," he told MPs.

Sexwale said last month's ruling by Judge Brian Spilg in the South Gauteng High Court on the fate of some 80 squatters in Berea amounted to "the legalisation of illegality".

Spilg ordered they vacate the building by the end of the month and will then become the responsibility of the City of Johannesburg. The city will have to provide them either with temporary accommodation, or pay each occupier or household head R850 to rent elsewhere.

Govt must pay for squatters

If the judgment were upheld on appeal, the minister said, it would mean that "everywhere they have occupied you have to pay rent for these people" and dire consequences would ensue for municipalities and ultimately Treasury.

Waving an arm around the assembly, he said even if Parliament were illegally occupied the same would apply.

He said the matter had been taken up with Cabinet and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and could be raised with Ngcobo.

Sexwale said like the historic Constitutional Court ruling in the Grootboom case in 2000, the judgment was based on the Protection of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation Act, which was meant to stop a perpetuation of apartheid-era wrongs, but has ended up having unintended consequences.

"We attempted to address history, but unfortunately history has turned on us."

Relief for property owners

But he added that he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the appeal.

"We can only pray," he said.

Spilg's judgment has brought relief for property owners who have struggled to get squatters evicted because the country's courts have been reluctant to evict illegal occupants who have nowhere else to go.

But it has raised fears with authorities that they will be obliged to provide or pay for alternative housing.

It is only binding in Johannesburg, but local authorities elsewhere have expressed concern that it could prove persuasive in other divisions.