File picture: Pixabay
File picture: Pixabay

Activists hail ruling to protect poor residents from police raids

By Kim Harrisberg, Thomson Reuters Foundation Time of article published Jun 30, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - South

African campaigners on Tuesday welcomed a court ruling that will

make it harder for police to raid poor city dwellers' homes,

following recent protests over operations to enforce the

coronavirus lockdown.

The Johannesburg High Court ruling, which effectively bans

police from raiding homes without a warrant, came after a series

of often-violent raids on "hijacked buildings" - properties

illegally seized by rogue landlords and rented to low-income

tenants.

"This is a major step in the right direction in making sure

that all are equal before law, not just those living in affluent

suburbs," said Khululiwe Bhengu from the Socio-Economic Rights

Institute (SERI) of South Africa, a housing rights charity.

"This brings a sense of comfort to inner-city residents that

they are safe in their homes, especially during the lockdown,"

Bhengu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Monday's ruling, which responded to a complaint by "hijacked

building" residents, declared unconstitutional a police law

allowing officers to conduct raids on private homes without a

prior court-issued warrant.

The court said police raids had been carried out under the

legislation "in a manner that was cruel, humiliating, degrading

and invasive."

In recent weeks, rights activists have accused police of

heavy-handed tactics in enforcing lockdown measures, mainly in

poor black residential areas where overcrowding have made

self-isolation and social distancing difficult to maintain.

Johannesburg's municipal government estimates that there are

more than 1,470 "hijacked" or "dark" buildings in the inner city

that have been illegally taken over and have a reputation for

high rates of crime and drug-dealing.

Lucky Sindane, a spokesman for the city's anti-fraud and

corruption unit in charge of investigating such properties, said

most of their inhabitants were simply low-paid workers seeking

affordable housing.

SERI, which represented 3,000 residents living in 11

buildings, gathered testimonies about police raids during which

residents had their doors broken down, property damaged or

removed and were forced out onto the street at night.

Police spokesman Vish Naidoo said the police service is

"seriously considering opposing (the judgment)", but did not

comment on accusations of violence and heavy-handedness. 

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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