You can't pick your government house - Cape Town lawyer

Bromwell Street residents protest evictions. (Jenni Evans, News24)
Bromwell Street residents protest evictions. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Cape Town - Nobody has the right to pick and choose where their house is when the government is providing it, a lawyer for the City of Cape Town said during a challenge by 27 evicted Woodstock residents who refuse to accept emergency shacks outside the city.

“The Constitution does not guarantee the right to government housing at government expense at a locality of choice,” said advocate Karrisha Pillay.

Pillay submitted that in terms of the National Housing Code, contained in the National Housing Act, the city had done everything required of it after the Bromwell Street residents said they had nowhere to go after being served eviction notices.

The evictions came after the row of houses from 120 to 128 Bromwell Street, in Woodstock, were sold to Woodstock Hub private developers who aim to build mid-price rental units there.

The owners had already bought up some prime spots around Sea Point and brought them back onto the market for high-end buyers looking for tastefully-designed, secure city living.

READ: Bromwell Street residents voice anger over judge's 'kitchen assistant' comment


The Bromwell Street residents said they could not afford to live elsewhere.

They fear they will be stuck at the location the city chooses for them with no transport, clinics or schools. They are angry that improvements to properties and premises within the city are driving poor people out as they can no longer afford to live in it.

After a protest and court applications, the city intervened. It offered the residents free corrugated iron shacks in Wolwerivier, 28km north of the city.

This case would set a precedent, because the residents were not opposing the emergency shelter, but its location.

Pillay said the Wolwerivier site, which already had 428 structures housing 1 122 occupants, may not be right next to schools and clinics, but was within a reasonable distance of these facilities.

Asked how long they would have to live in the temporary shelters, she said it would be either until they got to the top of a State housing list, or until they could afford to move on.

Pillay took Judge Leslie Weinkove through the relevant points of the National Housing Code and the National Housing Act. She submitted that the city could offer people emergency shelter with the resources it had. In this case, it already had Wolwerivier.

The provision to cater to those who needed emergency temporary housing was brought in after a landmark Constitutional Court judgment in favour of Irene Grootboom.

READ: Bromwell Street judge stuns with court comments

Temporary emergency housing

Pillay explained that before the Grootboom judgment, there was nothing to force the government to arrange temporary emergency housing for people in need after evictions or a disaster.

Rules on the provision of temporary emergency shelter were prepared and came into force after that. It was available to anybody in an emergency situation. Exceptions include people who have insurance to cover themselves.

The code stipulates that municipalities and government departments cannot use their emergency shelter allocation to build permanent houses.

If they did not have money for emergency shelters, it could ask the provincial government for help.

With the Wolwerivier emergency camp already established, the city did not have to.

“We cannot develop emergency housing closer to the city for a host of reasons. In those circumstances, the residents cannot compel the city to do so. And it ought not to be compelled to because they have no right to choose a location as to where they live.”

Only national government had the authority to release one of the 45 parcels of land that resident and group spokesperson Charnell Commando compiled and proposed, Pillay said.

The city had rejected Commando's suggested erfs as not suitable.

‘Disgusting’ remarks

On Tuesday, Weinkove questioned Commando's credentials. She stunned the court by calling her a “kitchen assistant”, who knew nothing about municipal planning.

Outside the court, Commando said Weinkove's remarks disgusted her.

“People don't know your situation, what is happening in your life. It's because they're not in your shoes, they don't know what it is like,” she said.

“At least we are working class people. We don't go around stealing, or robbing people.”

The application continues.

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