The City of Johannesburg has obtained an order from the Johannesburg high court allowing occupiers in Newtown to return to land owned by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) after they were violently evicted earlier today.
The evictions were carried out by the Red Ants on the basis of a court order by the Johannesburg high court on July 28 2015. The court ordered that an eviction can only be carried if the City provides “all deserving unlawful occupiers” from the Prasa-owned land in Newtown.
At the time, thet order came after land occupiers and Prasa reached an agreement.
The occupiers agreed to leave if the City provided temporary accommodation.
The court instructed the City to file a report to the court about the accommodation, when it will be available, and “an undertaking to make that accommodation available”.
While the City did file a report to the court in 2015, it did not strictly abide by the court order. The report that the City provided suggested that Prasa, as a state entity, should provide alternative accommodation, and not the City itself. The City subsequently failed to abide by the order because it did not provide accommodation itself as the court had ordered.
The eviction on Friday is therefore illegal because the court order allowing it to take place is suspended, according to Stuart Wilson, director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institution, a civil society unit that litigates issues around eviction.
“These people shouldn’t be evicted without alternative accommodation being provided,” Wilson said.
On Friday, as residents watched their belongings being piled into the street by the Red Ants, the City of Johannesburg became aware that it had not fulfilled its legal obligations and that the eviction is illegal. The City asked the court that the eviction be reversed and the residents be allowed to return to their houses.
According to the draft court order, the City of Johannesburg asks: “That the eviction under case number 2015/1079 scheduled to take place on 2 june 2017, is stayed pending compliance by the Applicant with paragraph 3 of the order granted by Judge Mahlalelo on 28 July 2015.”
The applicant is the City of Johannesburg and paragraph 3 is a reference to the court’s order in 2015 that the City provides temporary accommodation.
In its court bid, the City clearly recognised that it had failed to abide by the law. Wilson says that its application for a court order to return the occupiers to their houses is “very responsible”.
Earlier on Friday, evicted residents in the Newtown settlement, which is known as the Bekezelela community, told the Mail & Guardian that they had not been warned that evictions would take place. South African law states that authorities are obliged to give evictees notice of an eviction before it happens.
The Bekezelela community is not visible from the main streets in Newtown, but down a short side street just off Carr Street, between 300-480 occupiers live in small concrete houses or shacks.
The Red Ants came just after 8am on Friday, and residents soon found themselves, and their belongings, on the street. The sheriff told the Mail & Guardian that residents had resisted eviction. In response, rubber bullet casings littered the ground outside their homes after they were fired.
One resident said that during the eviction the Red Ants had threatened her with sexual assault.
“They come inside in the yard and they tell us, ‘take your things out’. If you are a woman, they say ‘take the panty down, we want to fuck you’,” said Hlahla Sithole.
Wilson said that he and others involved in the matter would visit the site tonight to see if the residents have been allowed to return to the property.