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Concourt lashes Hlophe's squatter ruling

Published Aug 22, 2008

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The Constitutional Court's battle with Cape Judge President John Hlophe did nothing to dampen the justices' criticism of his landmark eviction order against 20 000 Western Cape squatters.

Justice Kate O'Regan on Thursday expressed disquiet over Judge Hlophe's controversial order that the residents of the Joe Slovo informal settlement be moved to make way for government's pilot N2 Gateway Housing Project, pointing out that it made no mention of where they would be moved to.

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"It's one of the things that really bothers me ... I couldn't imagine an order for eviction that didn't set out where and how the respondents would be accommodated," she said.

She added that Judge Hlophe's order gave no sense of the process the state would follow in relocating the informal settlement dwellers, many of whom took trains from Cape Town to attend Thursday's hearing.

The comments came just one day after the hearing of Judge Hlophe's acrimonious legal wrangle with South Africa's highest court, in which he sought to have their public accusations that he attempted to lobby two of them for pro-Jacob Zuma rulings declared unconstitutional.

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O'Regan and her fellow justices on Thursday repeatedly urged lawyers for the government, its housing agency and the squatters to work together to compile a draft order, replacing that given by Judge Hlophe and detailing how government would move the squatters "fairly and openly", within the next week.

Counsel for Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, Michael Donen SC, responded positively to the court's proposal of a negotiated settlement order.

Justice Zac Yacoob said such a settlement order should place obligations on the state to say where exactly the squatters would be moved to and what conditions they would stay under.

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He also suggested that it place on record what percentages of the Joe Slovo development's finalised homes would be provided to its former occupants. He then went on to grill advocate Steve Kirk-Cohen, who is representing the housing agency employed by the state to construct the Gateway Project, about the validity of concerns raised by squatters about the area to which they would be moved.

Kirk-Cohen confirmed that the squatters would be moved to Delft, 15km away from where they were living in Joe Slovo, into temporary accommodation slammed as "woefully inadequate" by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. He further confirmed that:

- Transport from Delft to the informal settlers' employment areas was problematic.

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- The crime rate in Delft was higher than that of Joe Slovo.

- There was a shortage of electricity in Delft, which government was attempting to correct by installing electricity meters.

- There are no schools in Delft, but government was in the process of constructing such facilities.

While Joe Slovo's informal settlers made headlines last year when they blocked the N2 highway in protest against their allegedly unfair treatment by government housing authorities, the group attending the hearing were quiet and restrained - even earning the praise of Chief Justice Pius Langa.

Represented by counsel Geoffrey Budlender, the squatters have asked that the Constitutional Court overturn Judge Hlophe's ruling that they were "illegal occupants" of the Joe Slovo land, which some claim they have lived on since the early 1990s. The squatters also want to challenge his decision that they had "no reasonable expectation" that most of them should be accommodated in the homes to be constructed.

Justice Langa on Thursday reserved judgment on the application.

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