Covid-19 Roundup | Evictions and raids

As the court finds raids in inner-city Joburg unconstitutional, the City of Cape Town has again violated the lockdown eviction moratorium, beating a naked man and destroying his shack.

About 100 people marched to the Harare Police Station in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, on 2 July 2020 to protest against the City of Cape Town’s demolition of four shacks in eThembeni the day before. Video footage of the demolitions went viral after the City’s anti-land invasion unit and metro police were seen dragging Bulelani Qolani naked out of his shack and beating him repeatedly before tearing his shack down. The City later suspended the police officers involved, pending an investigation.

The Khayelitsha Community Action Network, Ndifuna Ukwazi, Social Justice Coalition and Rent Strike South Africa were among the groups supporting the march. Protesters also gathered outside mayoral committee member for housing Malusi Booi’s house after the evictions. Later, they criticised the DA’s City administrators for saying protesters had breached Booi’s privacy.

“They claim the community whose homes were demolished in the most inhuman manner were invading his privacy. What of the privacy of the gentleman forced out of his home naked? What of the people [who] were left to sleep outside? The City carried out this eviction in the most dehumanising manner towards poor black people. We demand all the confiscated material … be returned to their owners,” said march organisers Buhle Booi and Ntsiki Dlulani. The Legal Resources Centre has offered its backing to those evicted.

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On 1 July, Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu who has previously overseen evictions has now called on the Western Cape government to hold officials to account. “The violation of someone’s dignity has no place in democratic South Africa,” she said. 

Evictions were prohibited under level 5 lockdown regulations. But since March, the City of Cape Town, the eThekwini municipality in Durban and others have been violently evicting residents who have been living in shack settlements for months. 

In Eersterust in Tshwane, families were left out in the cold after protesting against a lack of housing. Residents had built structures on vacant land, which were subsequently demolished. Similar scenes also recently played out in Lawley, Gauteng.

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In Malmesbury, about 50km from Cape Town, police fired tear gas into the shack settlement of Chatsworth, Silvertown, for four hours on 2 July. Residents have been without water, electricity or toilets for seven years. Community activist Kini Ntanjana said residents recently visited the municipality to ask for electricity during the government’s Covid-19 lockdown so their children could do their schoolwork. The police responded by firing tear gas at the settlement and arresting one person, who was released a few hours later after residents protested.

“We can’t breathe. They shot four rounds of tear gas within 15 minutes. The whole place is full of tear gas. We’ve got pregnant women, asthmatic people, kids, infants and newborns here. We are now covering our heads and gargling with salt water. Last time, they shot 48 canisters of tear gas at us and some of us had to be taken to hospital,” said Ntanjana.

Farm vouchers gone awry

Farmers in the Eastern Cape want answers about vouchers disbursed recently as part of the R1.2 billion Covid-19 government relief fund for small-scale establishments. 

Madosini Roundy Peter from Farmers Network South Africa said the farmers were given vouchers they could redeem at service providers chosen by the government. But the money went missing en route to the farmers, said Peter. 

A government spreadsheet shows that some farmers were allocated R50 000 in relief, but these farmers were given vouchers for only R10 000. Another issue was that chicken farmers were given vouchers for piggery supplies. Service providers then turned these farmers away when they tried to buy chicken feed, Peter added. 

The group plans to meet with provincial member of the executive council for rural development and agrarian reform Nkosazana Meth to rectify the voucher issue.

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Inner-city raids declared unconstitutional

The high court in Johannesburg ruled this week that raids carried out in the inner city under former mayor Herman Mashaba were irrational and unconstitutional. 

It declared Section 13(7) of the SAPS Act unconstitutional. The section allows for warrantless searches of private homes and people in a cordoned-off area. These searches are authorised by the national or provincial commissioner of police with the intention of maintaining safety in that area. Under Mashaba’s leadership, this section of the act was used to facilitate raids in occupied buildings with home affairs and City officials present. 

The Socio-Economics Rights Institute (Seri) represented residents from 11 buildings in the Johannesburg inner city who challenged the raids carried out between June 2017 and May 2018. 

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A full bench found that the provincial police commissioner simply authorised warrantless raids without applying her mind to the template-based applications. The court found that the raids were “carried out in a manner that was cruel, humiliating, degrading and invasive”.

Seri attorney Khululiwe Bhengu said: “The courts continue to interpret the Constitution in a way that vindicates the rights of the poor. Because of this judgment, poor residents of the inner city can enjoy their homes without the fear of being raided by the police.”

In making the declaration of invalidity, the court said this section of the act is open to abuse by people who want to violate the rights of the vulnerable in society.

While the court declared the section unconstitutional, it did not grant the constitutional damages that inner-city residents wanted after losing some of their possession during the raids. The invalidity issue was suspended for a period of 24 months. While Parliament fixes the defect, the police are barred from searching private homes and people during these raids.

Rejected applications reconsidered

Around half the applications for the new R350 grant for social relief of distress have been rejected, mostly because applicants were already benefitting from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

On reviewing its databases, however, the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) has confirmed that 85% of the rejected applications in fact qualified for the grant. In what it has called a “lifeline to rejected applicants”, the agency is now reprocessing their applications. Sassa says it has paid out more than 2.5 million social relief of distress grants so far.

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The needs of healthcare workers

According to a report released by Oxfam South Africa, the quality of healthcare in the country has been compromised by the maltreatment of healthcare workers. This has contributed to a failing healthcare system, which is now unable to meet the demands of a major health crisis – such as a pandemic. 

Released on 30 June in collaboration with the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union, the report looked at the link between the poor conditions under which healthcare workers operate and the quality of healthcare provided in the country. It also considered the unequal distribution of resources and failures in labour law and practice to protect health workers’ rights. 

The Right to Dignified Healthcare Work, a Right to Dignified Health Care for All pointed out that Covid-19 has brought to light the inequalities and fragilities in the current system and worsened them. These inadequacies “constrain [the healthcare system] from delivering on its mandate in terms of the South African Constitution and regional and international human rights law in terms of the right to health”, the report says.

It has recommended that the government strengthens frontline healthcare workers by focusing on their emotional and physical needs.

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Back to school

The Council of Education Ministers (CEM) has amended the grades returning to school on 6 July. “After careful consideration of all the reports, CEM has decided that only grade R, 6 and 11 will return to school on Monday,” said Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga on 2 July.

In an updated statement, Motshekga said that mid-year and final exams will be combined, following the postponement of mid-year exams because of the Covid-19 lockdown. “The May/June 2020 examination for candidates who registered for the Senior Certificate and the National Senior Certificate will be administered in November/December 2020,” she said.

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