Business Day: Eviction delays sought while laws are tightened

Eviction delays sought while laws are tightened

CAPE TOWN — Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu wants to tighten the law on evictions and has asked private and state landowners to hold off on any "until there is a clear understanding of the laws and basic human rights requirements that must be met".

She is also seeking an engagement with the Constitutional Court and the judiciary on how the law governing evictions is applied.

However, her appeal for a suspension of evictions does not have legal force.

The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act requires land and property owners to take action against illegal occupiers of land and property within six months of the illegal act taking place, failing which they are required to provide temporary accommodation as part of the eviction plan.

Ms Sisulu said she failed to understand "why a property owner will receive a court order in summer and wait until winter to effect it. It is inhumane and bad timing; it is totally unacceptable."

This was a reference to the recent evictions from land owned by the South African National Road Agency Limited (Sanral) in Lwandle, near Strand in the Western Cape, which caused a political uproar.

Thembani Ngongoma, a spokesman for the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, which has vigorously fought against illegal evictions, disagreed that there was any need to clarify the law, which he said was very clear.

"I wonder what law has to be clarified, as it is there in black and white," he said.

The problem, Mr Ngongoma said, was rather a lack of political will to implement the law properly.

He said evictions had regularly taken place around the country since 1994, without any response by national or provincial governments.

In most, people were thrown onto the streets without the alternative accommodation demanded by the Constitutional Court.

Centre for Constitutional Rights legal officer Phephelaphi Dube agreed. She believed the constitution, the act and jurisprudence established a solid framework for evictions. "There is absolutely no need for clarity. The law is quite clear."

Any decision about an eviction had to balance the right to property with the right to reasonable accommodation resulting from a "just and equitable" settlement.

Ms Dube referred to a recent Constitutional Court judgment that there be meaningful engagement with the municipality and the community in evictions.

She and other legal experts questioned the constitutionality of Sanral’s evictions, undertaken on the basis of an interim court interdict and not an eviction order.

Ministerial spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya said Ms Sisulu’s appeal was prompted by humanitarian concerns and apparent irregularities in the eviction process. He said Sanral’s action could have been a way of avoiding the obligation to provide alternative accommodation.

"We are saying no, this is not correct. If you go to court urgently for an order to evict people, then evict them, don’t wait for six months. We are saying that is not a proper way of interpreting the law. We need clarity and we have asked the department’s legal team to look at this. It looks like there is a deliberate confusion," Mr Mabaya said.

He said the government objected to the fact that it had to manage the humanitarian disasters that arose from eviction orders applied to communities that had become well established over many years.

The owners’ failure to take prompt action indicated they did not care sufficiently about their land.

Mr Mabaya said the minister wanted to engage on the obligations of land and property owners. She believed the law needed to identify the point at which the owners had failed in their obligations to look after their assets — for example, by taking prompt action against land invaders — which should therefore be forfeited to the state.

This failure could be due to the failure to pay rates and taxes.

Ms Sisulu also wanted a discussion on the relative rights and obligations of municipalities and landowners.