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Johannesburg - The Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday to evict the family of an elderly retired domestic worker who had moved in with her on a farm in the Stellenbosch area.
However, she and one son could remain, Judge Raymond Zondo said.
The three sons, Michael, Pieter and Ricardo, and daughter-in-law Edwina, of Magrieta Hattingh in her late 60s, had been living with her in a cottage on the smallholding “Fijnbosch” in Stellenbosch,
She had worked for the owner of the cottage, Laurence Juta, and later moved in with his consent in December 2002 into a cottage on his property. Her family joined her, and Juta joined two cottages to make one house for them.
When Hattingh's husband died, he said she could carry on living there.
But when Juta tried to get the children to vacate their section of the house to make way for a farm manager, so that he did not have to cycle so far to work every day, the children resisted.
They said their mother had the right to family life in terms of Section 6 (2)(d) of the Extension of Security of Act (Esta) and so they should stay.
Juta started eviction proceedings at the Magistrate's Court in Stellenbosch but the court ruled in favour of the applicants, saying their mother's right to family life meant they could stay on with her in the cottage.
Juta appealed this in the Land Claims Court and won, and won again when it was appealed by the applicants at the Supreme Court of Appeal. The applicants took it further to the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court then had to interpret the meaning of “family” and “family” life in deciding whether the previous courts were right, and how this fitted in with the land owner's rights.
In the unanimous judgment, written by Justice Raymond Zondo, Zondo explained that the applicants had argued that “family life” meant an extended family, whereas Juta had said it was for the occupant's spouse and dependent children.
Zondo said there was no statutory justification for limiting family to a nuclear family.
“....Families come in different shapes and sizes,” he said.
The age and independence of the children also did not matter.
But, a fair balance had to be struck so the landowner could enjoy his rights as owner of the land, said Zondo.
The way to get over Juta's concern of “family life by ambush”, if he gave consent to one person, was through “a proper respect for the rights of the landowner”.
The court took into account submissions that Hattingh could carry on living there, with one son, Ricardo, who would help her, that neither of the other Hattinghs had worked for him in a serious way or prolonged periods, and that Juta had offered to help with costs if they found somewhere else to live.
Juta would also take Hattingh to a doctor or hospital if necessary. The family could also visit Hattingh.
“Having considered all these above factors, in my view it would be just and equitable that Mrs Hattingh does not live with the applicants,” the judgment said.
“This means that the exclusion or eviction of the applicants from Fijnbosch will not infringe Mrs Hattingh's right to family life because, even though it limits that right, the limitation is just and equitable. Accordingly it would be just and equitable that the applicants be evicted.”
He also changed the dates of their eviction order from May 12, 2011 and May 13, 2011 to read June 13, 2013 and June 14, 2013, as part of the order. - Sapa