CALS: Statement on Forced Removal of Siyanda Residents to Transit Camps

Johannesburg, 23 January 2009


CALS condemns the current government policy of using transit camps as alternative accommodation for forcibly removed shackdwellers

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) is disturbed at a growing trend in South African cities in terms of which the state forcibly removes shackdwellers from large shacks on well-located land to ‘temporal housing’ in transit camps (also known as ‘temporary relocation areas’ or TRAs) on the urban periphery. Relocation to transit camps is most often done to make way for infrastructure and development projects which will not benefit those being removed.

On 27 January 2009 in the Durban High Court, 50 families supported by the Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement will be contesting their forced removal by the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport from Siyanda in KwaMashu, to transit camps in order to make way for the construction of the new MR577 freeway. Initially, these families were promised formal houses in the new Khulula Housing Project if they voluntarily relocated; however, due to corruption in the housing allocation process, there are no longer houses available to them and they are being forced into transit camps. Many shacks in Siyanda have five rooms, with plots where people grow food, keep chickens and run various types of small businesses. Moving to a one-roomed structure in a crowded transit camp would be disastrous for these households, and would merely serve to exacerbate their poverty.

In October 2008, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) wrote a letter to eThekwini Mayor, Cllr Obed Mlaba, urging local officials to immediately halt all forced evictions of shackdwellers within its jurisdiction, and to ensure that all Siyanda residents affected by the new freeway are provided with housing, as promised, in the Khulula Housing Project, as well as to investigate the contested allocation of these houses to residents from outside Siyanda. CALS believes that the affected Siyanda community had a legitimate expectation of being re-accommodated in formal housing, as promised to them, and the state now seeking their relocation to transit camps indefinitely is in direct frustration of that expectation. Withdrawing its promise, without substantively good reasons, is unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional.

Transit camps consist of small, closely-packed prefabricated or zinc structures akin to shacks, often located in areas lacking social infrastructure and amenities or economic opportunities. People are often forced to move with no proper consultation or engagement on their permanent housing options and no timelines of when and where permanent formal housing will be made available to them. The temporal shacks thus often become permanent housing. Crime, emotional and financial stress, depression and domestic abuse often increase as families face social dislocation and the disruption of social networks, as well as the loss of the albeit fragile livelihood opportunities that they enjoyed in their previous communities. Women tend to suffer disproportionately.

An amicus curiae submission made by COHRE and the Community Law Centre (CLC) in the evictions case of 20 000 Joe Slovo informal settlement residents, heard in the Constitutional Court in August 2008, focused on the socio-economic implications of their forced eviction to Delft TRAs, as well as if the TRAs constituted adequate housing. In their submissions they argued that relocating Joe Slovo residents to the Delft TRAs would leave them in a worse socio-economic position and would offer them no real security of tenure. COHRE and CLC further argued that the Delft TRAs cannot be regarded as adequate housing within the meaning of section 26 of the Constitution and that relocating the applicants to Delft TRAs would not constitute a reasonable measure within the meaning of section 26 of the Constitution, nor would it constitute the progressive realisation of the right of access to adequate housing. Judgment in this case is still pending.

Research conducted in 2007 by local NGO the Development Action Group (DAG) in Delft TRAs, showed that overcrowding was an issue and that many families were unhappy with the size and composition of their structure. Common complaints included the fact that TRA structures are made of cheap material that is easily damaged; that they are very cold during winter and extremely hot in summer; that they can be easily broken into; that they are not soundproof and very closely packed together, making privacy impossible; and that they are a health hazard. People complained that the ablution facilities were sub-standard and that the communal toilets, taps and showers were not being properly maintained and were often unusable. A large number of households had made significant improvements to their temporary structures, suggesting that they expected to live in the TRAs for an extended period of time. Indeed, the Tsunami TRA in which this research was conducted, has evolved into a semi-permanent settlement, with some families living there for over three years. It is worrying that households are forced to invest money into these temporary structures, when they have no individual title or security of tenure.

Furthermore, transit camps actually cost the state a large amount of money to erect, with private contractors benefiting and with very little benefit being derived from those forced to live in them. It is money that could be better spent in other ways, for example on in situ informal settlement upgrading.

In terms of the landmark Grootboom judgment, the state has a constitutional obligation to make “short, medium and long term” plans for housing needs. Providing temporary housing, which is clearly a stop-gap, without any undertakings or guarantees relating to what will happen to re-accommodate people after their temporary stay – and when that will happen – clearly does not comply with this requirement.

Therefore, CALS urges government departments at all levels to recognise that moving people from large, well-located shacks in established communities, to one-roomed government shacks on the outskirts of cities where their already fragile socio-economic existence is threatened, is not development and does not constitute adequate alternative accommodation or the progressive realisation of the right of access to adequate housing as envisioned in the Constitution.

Government must refrain from this practice unless as a last resort and provided there is consent from those affected, clear timelines on how long people will have to remain in temporary accommodation, and information on when and where permanent formal housing will be made available to them.

For more information on Siyanda, visit the Abahlali baseMjondolo website at

Or contact Kate Tissington (CALS) on 0722209125 or