21 December 2017

South Africa: Court Victory for Victims of Mooiriver Fire

Mpofana Municipality must provide accommodation before it can evict residents living in hall

In April 2015 Bruntville Hostel in Mooiriver near Pietermaritzburg was torched by community members. Its nearly 200 residents became homeless and moved into the Mooiriver town hall next to the Mpofana Municipality's offices.

The municipality went to court to get an eviction order against the residents. Represented by the Legal Resources Centre, the residents of the hall made a counter-application requiring the municipality to provide them with accommodation before the eviction took place.

On Wednesday The Pietermaritzburg High Court found that the municipality had breached the residents' Section 28 rights in the Constitution, which deal with housing, and the Housing Act 107 of 1997. Judge AJ Sishi ordered that the eviction be stayed. Before an eviction can proceed the municipality must provide the residents of Bruntville hostel with temporary accommodation that includes water, sanitation and electricity. It has to work out the details of this in consultation with the residents within 60 days.

Moreover within three years of being moved to temporary accommodation the municipality has to provide the residents with permanent accommodation.

One of the town hall residents, Vumani Cekwane, told GroundUp that a Mooiriver resident, Lindo Mabuza, was killed in 2015. Residents suspected the killer lived in Bruntville Hostel and burnt it down. The municipality moved the hostel dwellers to the town hall but tried to evict them three weeks later.

"We sleep on the floor. Some of us live with families. Females and males are staying in the same hall. There is only one toilet for males and two for females. Some of us wait until it's dark to take a shower outside. The municipality has tried on numerous occasions to evict us. ... . When the hostel was set on fire we were left with what we were wearing. We have nothing. Most of the residents are doing security jobs. We earn so little from the companies we work for," said Cekwane.

Lindelani Sithole had been been living in Bruntville hostel for 15 years. Sithole said residents were happy with the court's decision. "We have no electricity at the hall. Our stay in the hall is depriving community members their right to use the hall. Sometimes they host functions while we are sleeping. It's not healthy. Children cannot sleep when there is noise," said Cekwane.

Attorney for the residents, Thabiso Mbhense, said he was happy with the judgment. "It covered all that we have pointed out. The important factor was that of proper accommodation," he said. "The way forward is meeting with the municipality."

Attempts to get comment from Mpofana municipality were unsuccessful.

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