A ground-breaking high court judgment will see the City of Joburg spend about R370 million on formal housing for 10 000 people at the Slovo Park informal settlement.
The court has ordered the city and mayor Parks Tau to begin building houses for the Soweto residents.
The high court order also instructed Tau to provide houses to those who do not qualify for RDP houses.
In terms of the ruling, everybody who lived in the area before the court application is entitled to the houses as prescribed by the Upgrading of Informal Settlement Policy (UISP).
The court ordered Tau to approach the MEC for Human Settlements Paul Mashatile for funding.
In delivering the landmark ruling, Acting Judge Sanja Strauss acknowledged that all the parties agreed that Slovo Park residents were indigent people who had been living in deplorable conditions, without access to electricity for 21 years.
Also not in dispute was that shack fires broke out at a rate of one every two months and were often fatal. What's more, ambulances refuse to collect the sick from Slovo Park because the roads are unmarked.
This area is not mapped or signposted. As a result, individual residents cannot be located.
The judge further ordered Tau and member of the mayoral committee for housing Daniel Bovu, as well as a senior official of council, Thabo Martin Maisela, to provide a report to the court and legal representatives for the 10 000 residents in the next four months, setting out steps taken to comply with the court order.
Mashatile was directed to consider the application within a reasonable time. The city was also ordered to pay the costs of two counsels.
The ruling was made after the residents of the informal settlement approached the high court to force Joburg to begin the process of converting their informal settlement into a township.
The case has been before the court since 2014. Slovo Park residents insisted they did not want to move out of the area they’ve occupied for more than 20 years.
The city, however, denied the claims. It argued that Slovo Park was a dolomitic area and it intended to relocate some of the residents who qualify for RDP houses to Unaville, 11km away.
The city further argued its decision to provide housing through the Unaville development was rational and would address the provision of housing in general and not only in relation to Slovo Park.
Strauss, delivering the judgment, said: “The UISP makes it clear that the relocation of informal settlements should be the exception and not the rule.
“It also states that relocation must take place at a location as close as possible to the existing settlement and within the context of community-approved relocation strategies.”
Strauss said the city’s decision to relocate only qualifying beneficiaries to Unaville would exclude an unknown number of people from adequate housing.
“I find this to be unreasonable and not inclusive,”Strauss said.
She also said the Constitutional Court had held that appropriate relief in cases such as this one, which implicates constitutional rights, must be effective relief.
“It is therefore clear that the only effective relief would be to direct the city to commence the process the UISP prescribes for the upgrading of the Slovo Park settlement,”Strauss said.
Nomzamo Zondo, Socio-economic Rights Institute’s director of litigation, said: “This is a truly ground-breaking judgment, which establishes that the UISP is binding on municipalities. The government must make sure that paper policies, such as the UISP, result in meaningful change on the ground. Until today, the City of Joburg thought itself completely at liberty to disobey this crucial, pro-poor national housing policy. The court has sent a clear message that this is unreasonable and unlawful. We call on the city to accept the judgment and commence engagement with our clients on the content of a plan to upgrade Slovo Park.”
City of Joburg spokesman Virgil James said: “We note and respect the court judgment and will now study it.”
Other landmark court judgments
* December 1, 2011: The Constitutional Court declares the cityâ??s housing policy unlawful and unconstitutional in that it excludes people evicted by a private landowner from its temporary housing programme, as opposed to those relocated by the city.
The court ruled that the city had to provide temporary accommodation in terms of the constitution, the Housing Act and Chapter 12 of the Housing Code where evictions take place by a private property owner. This concerned 86 people who unlawfully occupied a property in Berea.
* In 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled that the City of Joburg not only had to give temporary land to squatters evicted from empty land in Marlboro, but also to provide them with building materials to rebuild their shacks.
The court ruled that should the two portions of land in Marlboro where they were living not be sufficient for them, the council would have to identify additional land to which remaining families could be relocated.
* The public protector in 2014 gave the city a report asking it to take action against city manager Trevor Fowler for allegedly interfering in the investigation of resident Motshoane Mabenaâ??s cloned number plates. The city did not act.