By Annisa Essack
A landmark judgement was delivered on Thursday, 6th June 2019, in the Constitutional Court which said that judges have an obligation to ensure that evictions will not leave people homeless. This, after the Concourt, delivered judgment after hearing a case where 184 residents in an apartment block had agreed to be evicted without knowing their rights. Many of them had been living in the building for more than 2 decades when they were served with a notice that they would be evicted.
When the matter reached the Johannesburg High Court, for a court order to be granted, later that year, a member of the Johannesburg Ward Committee agreed to the eviction on behalf of the residents although he had not received permission from the residents to act on their behalf. The Court, however, granted the eviction saying the parties had come to an agreement. At the time, many of the residents could not speak English, afford legal representation and only four were present at the high court when the order was granted.
The residents then approached SERI, the Socio-Economic Rights Institution who took the matter on appeal to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court of Appeal. However, they lost at both courts and then approached the ConCourt.
The Constitutional Court found that the residents had not consented to the eviction and were not aware of their rights which included access to alternative temporary accommodation if they would be left homeless. The Court also had to ensure that the order could only be granted only after the court granting the order had considered all relevant details and background information. As the residents had no access to legal representation when the eviction order was granted the ConCourt decided that they were not entirely informed of their rights.
Nomzamo Zondo, director of litigation at SERI, represented the residents at the Concourt. said that the “momentous decision” of the Concourt judgement would help give security to poor South Africans at risk.