Court rules Salt River families can’t be moved to rural hinterland
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CAPE TOWN - In a highly-anticipated verdict, poor and working class families that have lived in Bromwell Street in Salt River for generations have praised a Western Cape High Court judgment that ruled against their displacement to rural hinterland, Wolweriver.
It’s hoped their victory against the City will lead the municipality to further reconsider its approach when displacing the vulnerable to the outskirts of the metro, but that remains to be seen as Mayor Dan Plato says the City is “considering its options”.
After more than six years, the Western Cape High Court on Monday declared the City’s emergency housing programme unconstitutional in responding to the emergency housing needs of people being evicted from the well-located inner-city, Woodstock and Salt River areas.
The Woodstock Hub had bought the Bromwell Street houses in 2013 and instituted eviction proceedings during July 2015.
At the time the property development company wanted to construct “middle income” units for rent between R5 000 and R9 000 a month, and many of those living in the houses earned R3 500 a month or less.
The City had, in turn, planned to relocate the people, including children, to an incremental development area in Wolwerivier, which the residents rejected arguing that it was far from schools, health care facilities, and transportation options.
In his judgment, Judge Mark Sher directed the City to accommodate the residents as close as possible to where they currently live.
“It is declared that the (City’s) emergency housing programme and its implementation, in relation to persons who may be rendered homeless pursuant to their eviction in the inner City and its surrounds, and in Woodstock and Salt River in particular is unconstitutional,” Judge Sher ordered.
The Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre, which took up the residents’ case, said in other municipalities in the country, transitional housing is often used to provide temporary emergency housing to people rendered homeless as a result of evictions.
But in Cape Town people were often moved to far-flung temporary relocation areas (TRAs) and incremental development areas (IDAs), like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier, or informal settlements, like Kampies.
Described as a “hell hole”, Blikkiesdorp was set-up in 2007 by the the DA-led City near Delft for families who had invaded unfinished units at the N2 Gateway housing project.
It was supposed to be a short-term housing solution, but many of the people who were moved into the corrugated iron units that criss-cross the sandy terrain are still there, as the area has become a haven for crime, gangsterism and squalor.
Disha Govender, head of the Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre and attorney for the Bromwell residents, said there are no direct implications of the judgment for the residents of Wolwerivier and Blikkiesdorp in particular. But the organisation hoped the City would take it as an opportunity to reconsider its approach and meaningfully put in place measures to ensure it doesn’t continue to displace the most vulnerable people to the outskirts of the City, and that it would develop a constitutionally sound and just policy on emergency housing.
“Most obviously, flowing from the declaration, is that the court has ordered that the City provide our clients with ‘temporary’ emergency accommodation or ‘transitional’ housing in the Woodstock, Salt River or the Inner-City Precinct, in a location which is as near as feasibly possible to where the applicants currently reside.
“It also means the City needs to take steps to remedy the inconsistencies and contradictions in its emergency housing programme and importantly it needs to ensure its implementation and responses to people’s emergency housing needs is not arbitrary or irrational,” Govender said.
Bromwell resident Chanell Commando said: “I am very happy for this victory and this win because it can help people who are in the same situation as we are - people who never knew their rights - people who don’t know what is happening when evictions are happening to them. I would like for the City to engage more and see where people come from because this case is not just about us, it’s about what is happening in our community. I would like to also even thank the judge for seeing what this case really was and how it affected people’s lives and livelihoods.”
Plato said: “The City is concerned about the implications of this judgment for both private property owners and municipalities across the country. While we acknowledge the court’s decision, we do not agree with the outcome of this matter and we are in the process of considering our options.”