A landmark judgment by the Western Cape High Court means 60 000 disadvantaged people may sleep knowing they will not be evicted overnight.

Three different Philippi landowners initiated a legal battle to force the City to buy their properties, which people have occupied since 2013.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) represented the majority of the residents who had moved onto the land as they were either evicted from backyard shacks, or informal settlements elsewhere around Cape Town.

The three landowners were Iris Fischer; Manfred Stock; and Coppermoon Trading.

Fischer is an 86-year-old woman and 2.7 hectares of the land was in her family for over 50 years. She lives on a portion of the land with her sons.

Stock owns five erven in Philippi and argued that attempts for him to develop the land for housing were unsuccessful as it was near a noise corridor.

Coppermoon acquired erf 149 in 2007, which was rezoned for industrial development.

Judge Chantal Fortuin found the land appeared to be largely unused for about seven years and, while they were planning the development, people settled in.

Judge Fortuin found, in all three cases, the City, Minister and the MEC for Human Settlements were in contravention of the property owners’ constitutional rights to property.

In all three cases the City was ordered to enter into good faith negotiations to purchase the properties.

If negotiations fail, the court ordered the City to expropriate the land, or provide reasons why it is unable to do so.

During court proceedings the City filed four reports, each detailing why it could not accommodate the residents elsewhere and why it could not purchase the property itself.

The City argued it placed residents on the emergency housing list and indicated that, while the City may not be able to provide emergency housing immediately, it would be able to do so in due course.

Judge Fortuin said: “It is clear from the facts before me that this situation qualifies as an emergency housing situation. In terms of latter policy, the purchase of land is allowed where the municipality has no alternative land.”

Mayco member for Transport and Urban Development, Brett Herron yesterday said the City was studying the judgment delivered on Wednesday.

Thulani Nkosi, the Seri attorney who acted for the residents, said: “The vast majority of Cape Town's residents face a daily struggle to secure a home. 

"The City of Cape Town has yet to fully grasp the ongoing social crisis of homelessness or its obligations to respond reasonably to that crisis. The high court's brave and humane decision requires the City to come to grips with and implement its legal duties."