Court grants order to evict hundreds of people living on streets of Cape Town

But judge puts strict conditions on the way the eviction must be carried out and emphasises that the city also belongs to the evictees, as it does to those who live in mansions

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The City of Cape Town’s Law enforcement teams remove the belongings of a group of homeless people who had been living in the city centre in February 2024. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

  • The Western Cape High Court has granted an order for the City of Cape Town to evict about 200 homeless people living at several inner-city sites.
  • However, the “pavement dwellers” will have until 30 July to move and find alternative accommodation.
  • Judge Michael Bishop also made orders to safeguard affected children, older people and disabled people living at these sites, and to ensure a just and lawful eviction process.
  • The judge added that while the City’s accommodation in its Safe Spaces was rudimentary, “it is undoubtedly better than their current accommodation”.

The City of Cape Town has been given the green light to evict about 200 people living on the pavement at several inner-city sites. But the “pavement dwellers” will have more than a month to leave and find alternative accommodation.

The ruling on 18 June by Western Cape High Court Acting Judge Michael Bishop follows a lengthy court battle between the City and the homeless groups occupying spaces along Buitengracht Street, FW De Klerk Boulevard, Foregate Square, Helen Suzman Boulevard, Strand Street, Foreshore/N1, Virginia Avenue and Mill Street Bridge in the city centre.

The order was granted in terms of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land (PIE) Act.

Acting Judge Bishop ordered that the City must provide alternative accommodation at its “Safe Space” in Culemborg, which is also in the city centre. He said the homeless groups have about ten days to indicate whether they will move to this Safe Space. They should be allowed to live there for at least six months.

“Those who take up the alternative accommodation at the Safe Spaces, who are in a partnership with another [homeless person], and who require accommodation with their partner, are provided with accommodation for couples,” he ordered.

He also made orders to safeguard affected children, older people and disabled people living at these sites, and to ensure a just and lawful eviction process.

Judge Bishop said those who refused the offer of accommodation would be evicted and their structures demolished. However, their possessions must be kept in safe custody for six months.

He said he would “retain supervision” over the implementation of the order and directed the City - and the occupiers if they so wished - to file further affidavits on progress.

“This case concerns the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our society - people living on the pavements in downtown Cape Town. The conditions in which they live are deplorable.

“They live next to busy roads in tents or structures constructed of plastic sheets and cardboard. They are compelled to live their lives in public, with little or no privacy. They struggle for food, shelter and warmth,” Judge Bishop said in his ruling.

He said homeless people in Cape Town do not exist separately from other residents. He added that the city belonged to them, the office workers and those who lived in mansions. This case was a reminder “that we are all a few bad decisions and some bad luck from living life on the pavements”.

He said to its credit, this was “largely the attitude” adopted by the City in its PIE application.

Judge Bishop said while the City’s accommodation in the Safe Spaces was rudimentary, “it is undoubtedly better than their current accommodation”.

It included toilets and showers, two meals a day, blankets and access to clothes.

The City had also committed to helping those who use the Safe Spaces to overcome addiction, find jobs and reconnect with their families.

He said the main gripe of the occupiers – represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) – was that the City had not meaningfully engaged them, and that the Safe Spaces were not suitable because they had rules which separated families and restricted their freedom.

“The occupiers accept that living on the streets creates risk for their physical and mental well-being. They accept that their eviction may be warranted - but only once the City has meaningfully engaged with them and offered suitable alternative accommodation,” Judge Bishop said.

The Safe Spaces are weapon free, drug free and alcohol free. People are searched on entry, and residents are required to leave during the day, but that is flexible, he said.

On the issue of whether there had been meaningful engagement, the judge said while “not perfect” the City had met its legal obligations, and during latter engagements agreed to relax some rules to accommodate legitimate concerns.

“This is an unusual eviction. I have therefore decided to maintain light supervision of it to deal with any outstanding issues that may arise.”

He refused to grant the City a broad interdict preventing named occupiers from re-occupying other properties. The City had argued that without this, the eviction would not achieve its purpose because some occupiers would simply occupy a different pavement.

However the judge did interdict the respondents from re-occupying these properties. “If the City believes it needs the power to evict people, it must create new mechanisms that are constitutionally consistent and apply equally to everyone,” he said.

The City was ordered to pay 30% of the homeless group’s legal costs.

TOPICS:  Homeless

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