Oupa Miruma inside the basement of the old Moths building in Johannesburg, Tuesday, 17 July 2012.A Democratic Alliance contingent, headed by Johannesburg Caucus leader Mmusi Maimane, visited the building on Tuesday to assess living conditions. The building was found to be in an appalling state and not fit for human settlement. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Durban - The eThekwini municipality has been slapped with a hefty costs order and given three months to provide 37 homes for displaced KwaMashu residents who have been waiting for houses for two years.

In a judgment hailed as important for the “rule of law” by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, which represented the families, Acting Judge Nigel Hollis voiced his displeasure at the city’s failure to act.

The residents took the municipality to court after it failed to comply with an order by Judge Themba Sishi in 2009 that it provide permanent housing for 37 families moved that year to make way for the construction of a road.

The families were moved to transit camps in KwaMashu with the understanding that they would receive formal housing within a year.

The municipality blamed the Department of Transport for the housing allocation bungle, as it had been responsible for compiling a list of residents who would need homes.

In his judgment in the Durban High Court, Acting Judge Hollis said if the municipality had believed the 2009 ruling against it should not have been made, it should have applied to the court to have it set aside.

“[Advocate John Pammenter], acting for the city, had no answer as to why this was not done.”

As an organ of state, the city should have complied with the order, the acting judge said.

He said he had no information before him about the housing situation because officials, the mayor and the municipal manager had failed to depose to affidavits.

“I am not aware of the municipality’s budgetary constraints except that there is a huge housing backlog of 220 000 units, but we are talking about only 37 units here.”

Acting Judge Hollis ordered that the mayor, city manager and director of housing take all steps to provide the housing within three months.

He ruled that within two months of his court order, the city must file an affidavit setting out the steps it had taken and those it would yet take to provide the housing.

Acting Judge Hollis said that if the municipality failed to comply with his order, the families could go back to court so the city’s management could be found to be in contempt.

One of the people displaced, Sukethini Nxumalo, said

: “It gives me hope that we will finally have houses. The court has done a good job. I just hope that the city will build us good homes.”

Teboho Mosikili, attorney at Socio-Economic Rights Institute, which represented the families, said: “This case has important implications for local government accountability… Municipal office-bearers are responsible for giving effect to court orders and constitutional obligations placed on municipalities.” - The Mercury