Cape Town homeless judgment a victory – SERI

Changes to conditions of the eviction, the shelter rules, and the interdict were only possible because clients were represented

Cape Town homeless judgment: A victory for voices of hundreds of unhoused in their litigation

24 June 2024

On Tuesday, 18 June 2024, the Western Cape Division of the High Court ordered the eviction of over 100 unhoused people occupying public spaces in seven sites around the Cape Town inner city, with the provision of alternative accommodation at one of the City of Cape Town’s shelters: Safe Space 1 in Culemborg.
The case concerns the obligations of the City of Cape Town towards unhoused people living in the inner city. Our clients had conceded at the outset that their occupation was unlawful, and so the main issues in the case concerned the provision of alternative accommodation and its adequacy. Their participation in this litigation meant that they could engage the City about their concerns, resulting in important concessions. Their next steps will be communicated in the next week once SERI has consulted with them.
The first concession concerns the eviction that would have rendered them homeless: despite the City having sought the eviction without tendering alternative accommodation, the High Court order now requires it to provide alternative accommodation to every individual who accepts an offer of shelter. 
Secondly, the City agreed to amend the shelter rules to make them more humane and constitutionally compliant. After the amendments, partners will not be separated into gender‑segregated accommodation but will be allowed to live together; shelter residents will not be locked out during the day; and people will not be limited to six months living at the safe spaces if they do not have alternative accommodation. We welcome these positive changes. 
Lastly, the High Court refused the sweeping interdict the City wanted: instead of a broad interdict which would have prohibited named and un-named persons from occupying any public space owned by the City of Cape Town anywhere in the inner city, the interdict now only applies to the specific people named in the court papers – our clients – and to the seven sites in the inner city from which they will be evicted. This averts a situation where other inner‑city residents who were not part of this litigation could be evicted from their homes without the procedural protections provided by our Constitution.
The changes to conditions of the eviction, the shelter rules, and the interdict were only possible because our clients were represented and could present their views before the court. We concur with the City that the process of engagement ought to be celebrated. We look forward to what the rehabilitation programme promises our clients, including job opportunities, health and social support for drug and alcohol abuse. 
SERI’s Senior Attorney Nkosinathi Sithole says, “We welcome the judgment because no-one in South Africa should be in a situation where their rights go undefended and their voices unheard. We look forward to consulting our clients next week and any further engagements that may arise out of that”.

Issued by Nkosinathi Sithole, SERI senior attorney, 24 June 2024