Scatterlings: Nursing mothers such as Sinenhlanhla Ngubane have had to care for their babies on the streets after eviction from Johannesburg inner-city buildings. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Scatterlings: Nursing mothers such as Sinenhlanhla Ngubane have had to care for their babies on the streets after eviction from Johannesburg inner-city buildings. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

More than five years after the Constitutional Court ordered that the residents of Ekuthuleni Shelter be provided with alternative accommodation by the City of Johannesburg, residents have again approached the court.

This time, they are challenging the constitutionality of the conditions imposed on them in the alternative accommodation allocated to them. These include daytime lock-out rules, gender segregation and a lack of personal space.

The city has imposed these rules since they moved in.

The residents are locked out of their homes from 8am to 5.30pm on weekdays and between 9am and 5.30pm on weekends and are not allowed entry after 8pm.

A man and a woman cannot sleep together in the same room, so small children have to spend the night with only one parent.

Residents are not allowed to keep their own furniture or sizeable belongings in their rooms, but have to place them in the shelter’s storerooms.

After their eviction from Saratoga Avenue, a nursing mother had to care for her child in the cold, an elderly and sickly resident had to spend his days outside and sick people could not recuperate at the shelter.

People employed on night duty could not sleep in the shelter during the day and school-going children were forced to roam the streets until such time that the shelter reopened.

Almost 50% of the inner-city population earns less than R3,500 per month and cannot afford to pay the high rental demanded by the property market. Due to a lack of affordable alternatives, many people reside informally in the inner city and are prone to evictions by the municipality and private landlords. When evicted, the city-provided temporary alternative accommodation is their only option to avoid homelessness.

Although the city suggested to the Constitutional Court that these rules did not represent a far-reaching policy choice, there is reason to doubt this. The city has sought to freeze its potential obligation to provide alternative accommodation to 3,000 residents because it intends to apply these rules if they are found to be constitutional.

Consider, for example, the case of Ingelosi House, which is situated in the inner city. The building accommodates about 20 households, comprising more than 80 people including almost 40 children. Most of the residents have lived there for longer than eight years.

A resident who arrived in Johannesburg in 2008 with hopes of advancing his education, stayed with his two older sisters in Ingelosi House. They paid a monthly rental of about R450 to a man they believed was collecting rent on behalf of the owner.

After the purported owner passed away in 2011, the Ingelosi House residents were notified of their impending eviction through a notice on a board in the building.

They are still challenging the eviction order. If evicted, they will require accommodation to be provided by the city.

The shift to a new environment will be made particularly strenuous if families are broken up and residents are locked out of their homes during the day and late evenings.

The residents of Ingelosi House are founding members of the Inner City Federation, a platform of inhabitants of more than 20 inner-city buildings who meet to share knowledge and experiences to resolve common issues. They are mainly people who have either experienced an eviction or live under the threat of being thrown out.

The Constitutional Court’s decision in the challenge by the residents of Ekuthuleni Shelter will have far-reaching consequences for all the residents of the inner city who currently find themselves in need of alternative accommodation.

If the City of Johannesburg is successful, the conditions imposed on the residents of Ekuthuleni will probably be imposed on many other residents in the inner city who have been forced out of their homes.

Molopi is a research and advocacy officer at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA. and Mahlangu the Secretary for the Inner City Federation

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